Is the me­dia a watch­dog or a lap­dog of the state?

CityPress - - Voices -

There is a huge dis­con­nect be­tween the ex­pec­ta­tions of both govern­ment and me­dia on what ex­actly the role of the me­dia should be.

On the one hand, govern­ment has taken a view that me­dia is a part­ner and has con­se­quently lined up a whole strat­egy and de­liv­ery mech­a­nism on this false premise.

Ev­ery fort­night since Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma took of­fice in 2009, govern­ment holds post-Cabi­net brief­ings with video con­fer­enc­ing fa­cil­i­ties to link up with Cape Town and Pre­to­ria.

At any given me­dia brief­ing, the Cabi­net state­ments are gen­er­ally no less than 10 pages of in­sight­ful con­tent that cover cur­rent af­fairs, Cabi­net de­ci­sions, pres­i­den­tial engagements, na­tional achieve­ments, con­fer­ences and com­mit­ments of min­is­ters lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. The re­lease also con­tains per­ti­nent de­tails of progress re­ports in terms of the out­comes as per the de­liv­ery con­tracts be­tween the pres­i­dent and min­is­ters.

In ad­di­tion, there is reg­u­lar re­port­ing on pro­pose bills and their var­i­ous stages of progress.

Not­with­stand­ing these, our me­dia would rather fo­cus on scan­dal­is­ing govern­ment, even if that means not get­ting all the facts right.

To some me­dia houses, the main mis­sion is sim­ply to paint this govern­ment as cor­rupt, hap­less and in­ept.

It could also be ar­gued that racist ten­den­cies play a role in the un­re­lent­ing at­tempt to stig­ma­tise a black govern­ment led by the ANC. It has be­come com­mon cause that in­de­pen­dence and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of many jour­nal­ists is now mea­sured by how ruth­less their re­port­ing can be about this ANC-led govern­ment.

Me­dia trans­for­ma­tion will in this re­gard be made to ad­dress not only print-me­dia own­er­ship, but the own­er­ship of print­ing press, the mea­sure­ment of cir­cu­la­tion, dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels and the as­sess­ment of reg­u­la­tory in­stru­ments to reg­u­late the af­fairs of me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers.

Dur­ing the back-to-school cam­paign at the be­gin­ning of the year, I was de­ployed to Lim­popo, where I vis­ited Mphambo High School in Mala­mulele.

I dis­cov­ered that ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion about ca­reers, and knowl­edge about the work of govern­ment and its lead­ers, re­mains a chal­lenge to his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged pupils.

It is dif­fi­cult for a ru­ral per­son to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion.

We urge vet­eran jour­nal­ists such as Seipati Sen­tle to use their ex­pe­ri­ence and free time to trans­fer knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion to these com­mu­ni­ties.

We will, dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter of the fi­nan­cial year, host a col­lo­quium on print-me­dia trans­for­ma­tion with all role play­ers, in­clud­ing the pub­lic. Muthambi is min­is­ter of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. This is an edited ex­tract from her bud­get vote speech, which she de­liv­ered in

Par­lia­ment on May 6

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Faith Muthambi must know that a po­lit­i­cal party fully de­serves the me­dia cov­er­age it gets. We in Cope un­der­stand that prin­ci­ple from di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence. We can­not com­plain about it. We had to take the blow on the chin and pay the price. In our view, jour­nal­ists must be ruth­less in their re­port­ing with ev­ery po­lit­i­cal party if they are to serve any pur­pose at all. Theirs is not the func­tion to plant lip­stick or pro­vide a hairdo for cos­metic pur­poses; the rul­ing party al­ready has a por­tion of the me­dia do­ing that. In our view, politi­cians must fear a free, fear­less and un­fet­tered me­dia. The dirt they dig up is the dirt that must be ex­posed to the na­tion. If there is a “huge dis­con­nect be­tween the ex­pec­ta­tions of both govern­ment and me­dia on what ex­actly the role of the me­dia should be”, the only way to cor­rect that is for the gov­ern­ing party to climb up the lad­der to the moral high ground it once oc­cu­pied. The role of the me­dia is cer­tainly not for the govern­ment to de­ter­mine. The me­dia knows the role it has to play. It is the fourth es­tate and must re­main so. Jour­nal­ists, the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor, judges and op­po­si­tion MPs are re­viled by the gov­ern­ing party be­cause the truth hurts, and deep truths hurt deeply. That the ANC govern­ment is ex­traor­di­nar­ily huge, ex­pen­sive, “cor­rupt‚ hap­less and in­ept” is borne out by the facts. Who was it, ac­cord­ing to the re­cent dis­clo­sure of the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor, that used food parcels to sweeten the minds of vot­ers? Who was it that loaded frail go­gos from the Eastern Cape, scream­ing and wail­ing, into po­lice vans in front of Par­lia­ment last week? These old folks who worked for the Ciskei Bus Trans­port Com­pany slept out in the open for three weeks, in front of Par­lia­ment, to urge the gov­ern­ing party to help them ac­cess the pen­sion money they had been owed for more than a decade, but to no avail.

The gov­ern­ing party dis­mally fails the na­tion and then de­mands a sweet­heart press. That can­not hap­pen.

Muthambi must also re­flect on who it was that called a swim­ming pool a “fire pool” and who it was that bla­tantly sec­ond-guessed the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor?

The me­dia will be a part­ner with the gov­ern­ing party when it ad­heres to the spirit and the let­ter of the Con­sti­tu­tion, and com­plies fully with the pro­vi­sions of the Pub­lic Fi­nance Man­age­ment Act and the Mu­nic­i­pal Fi­nance Man­age­ment Act. The me­dia will like­wise be a part­ner with the gov­ern­ing party when it be­gins to get full marks from the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral. The me­dia, mean­while, has no choice but to fo­cus on “scan­dal­is­ing govern­ment” be­cause of its lack of ethics and its re­peated fail­ure to up­hold the rule of law.

The me­dia must do what the me­dia is sup­posed to do. There can be no holy cows. Crooked politi­cians should never get good me­dia cov­er­age from principled and pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ists. Muthambi needs to be ed­u­cated about the role of the me­dia. Her in­ept­ness in this re­gard is glar­ing.

Bloem is Cope spokesper­son

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