Which media-related issues should be on government’s priority list?
Government needs to ensure the public broadcaster is adequately resourced, governed and managed.
It needs to ensure that its own communications machinery is working effectively to keep all South Africans informed about developments in government, and in particular how they can access government goods and services. It also needs to ensure that there are mechanisms for the general public to interact with government.
Government should expand its support to community media and other non-commercial media, recognising that the deepening of democracy requires a broad diversity of voices in the media.
Diversity and freedom of expression
Digital migration and the over-sophisticated set-top boxes promoted by the (former) director general of communications, for which she wants the telecoms industry to pay on the spurious argument that the boxes will provide e-government services. This, when at last sighting, the specifications did not provide a keyboard (!) or a return path. Do citizens want e-government when they get home at night or do they want TV programmes?
They want TV!
If it were serious about the SABC’s role as a public broadcaster and not as a state broadcaster, scrapping the Broadcasting Amendment Bill would have been a priority.
The SABC. The encouragement of a multiplicity of media, for example community radio. There should be far more citizen participation in the media. Access to the internet is a critical issue.
Encouraging journalism as a profession, and providing bursaries/incentives for students with an understanding of sustainable development and environmental affairs to enter the media.
The government has acted as a hurdle thus far in preventing competition with regard to certain technological advancements, which in turn has hobbled the advancement of the media.
Cultural and language diversity in the media is a major issue, and here we can learn from countries such as the UK, France, Australia and Canada that subsidise even commercial companies that advance cultural and language diversity.
Which issues should the media industry tackle if it wants to get its house in order?
The commercial media should resist the urge to cut editorial capacity. If it wants to maintain and grow its audience, it should be investing in quality journalism, through proper remuneration, training and other support resources.
Media outlets need to recognise the biases inherent in their editorial postures, and deliberately work to safeguard their independence, impartiality and fairness.
They also need to work harder to maintain high standards of professionalism and ethics.
Professionalisation, the improvement of standards and training; and a huge investment in self-regulation mechanisms, especially improvements in internal controls.
The print media could invite Professor Guy Berger to address them on the frequent use of ‘factoids': an incorrect set of facts produced by one journalist is frequently picked up and regurgitated by another, and before you know it, disinformation has taken on a life of its own and become a fact.
The media needs to be much more aware of its powerful role in shaping perceptions.
In the South African context, it is essential that everyone involved in the media has a critical understanding of South African history and the need for transforming our society. The media can play a very powerful role in promoting certain values and in giving voice to alternative and often marginalised voices.
Ensuring diversity of ownership. Not enough is done to train journalists. Investigative journalism is just about dead.
The ‘juniorisation’ of the newsroom is a major concern. There is also need for SA media to fi nd a ‘unique’ South African style/’voice’.
The rapid advancement of technologies threaten to leave us behind. Already we are playing catch-up with regards to the new generation of television. It is vital that we get on to the crest of the technological wave. The industry needs to meet and put a renewed vigorous effort into self-regulation.
Should the media have reported on President Kgalema Motlanthe’s alleged affairs?
There may be nothing in law or in the Press Council’s code of conduct that prohibits it, but common decency suggests that all individuals should be allowed some privacy. The personal lives of prominent individuals – even the head of state – have no bearing on the conduct of public life.
Media outlets who invade people’s privacy should not pretend they are acting in the public interest. It’s just plain voyeurism. And they should realise that real people, through no fault of their own, get hurt in the process.
Yes, to the extent that the public deserves to know who South Africa’s first lady is. Once the story had been broken, however, a new conversation ensued – which had nothing to do with service delivery and public service that should be embodied by the office of the president. Apart from writing superficially about what has been called concurrent inter-generational sex, the media ought to have led the public in another conversation – namely, the point at which (un)elected officials prioritise the citizenry. The media is understandably under pressure for its failure to justify – on time – why the story mattered. The publishing of facts is not on its own judgement of the individual – we need higher levels of public scrutiny of our public representatives.
Probably not, because a visible deluge of attempted character assassination is occurring. In such circumstances, a person’s privacy should weigh heavily. In general, the SABC editorial code is worth keeping in mind: Privacy must be observed unless material is in the public interest.
The media should have the right to report on any issue that is in the public interest. That right, however comes with a responsibility and it must be weighed up against a person’s right to privacy. Ultimately that decision needs to be made by the journalist and editor, but the public also has the right to question the merits of such a decision, while the public figure has the right to take legal action in many instances. In a country like South Africa, where we are faced with a myriad of socio-economic problems, we should try and avoid sensationalising and personalising our politics to the extent that politicians’ private lives become more important than their response to the challenges we face and the integrity with which they do their jobs.
When you enter public life, you expect your actions to be scrutinised to a certain extent. However, good taste and judgement are called for. Dignity and privacy should be respected.
No, not in the manner that it was done.
The basic standards of newsgathering should have been applied. What was the news value? Were the ‘facts’ independently verified? What were the possible motives of the informants who gave the story to the media? It was abundantly clear from the outset that this story seemed designed by Mr Motlanthe’s foes to cast him in a bad light.
The ANC has proposed that the establishment of a media appeals tribunal be investigated. What is the status of this investigation?
The ANC has not made progress in the discussion of the idea of a media appeals tribunal. No time frame has been set for the completion of the process.
What progress has been made with regard to the resolution: “The ANC should establish its own platforms for the production and distribution of information within and outside the organisation”?
The ANC has expanded and developed its online media platforms. This election will see it venturing into interactive online media, online video, mobile phones, etc. Work is still underway to investigate the feasibility of establishing an ANC newspaper, and what possible forms it could take.
- This piece first appeared in The Media magazine (March 2009).