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