President Jacob Zuma says the media must serve the interests of the public and not those of media owners. Zuma was addressing a group of second year journalism students from the Tshwane University of Technology who were visiting parliament.
Zuma said the media was a vital part of society but questioned whether the image of South Africa the sector portrayed was helping to “reconstruct” the country. “[Does] the population, the public, determine how the reporting should be – the very people the media say we live for?” Zuma asked.
“If we say we are reconstructing South Africa, what kind of image do we want to create and who determines it?” he said.
Zuma claimed reporting was tailored so as to sell newspapers and those headlines were often misleading and not what the story was actually about.
“When I’m in South Africa every morning you feel like you must leave this country because the reporting concentrates on the opposite of the positive,” Zuma said.
Zuma referred to “patriotic reporting”, something he’d encountered in Mexico whose journalists don’t cover stories on the country’s on-going violent drug wars as that would put off visitors to the country. He was told Mexico didn’t wash its dirty linen in public. Otherwise, if we said there was huge crime, people wouldn’t come to invest in this country”.
He questioned the way media reported on education, which, he said, remained the biggest challenge in terms of transformation. He also accused the media of failing to report on how the legacy of apartheid still impacted on the South Africa of today, giving urbanization and service delivery as examples.
“The reporting must help society to be informed, but also in a decent fashion, that’s the point we (the government) are making,” said Zuma.
A student questioned Zuma on whether the Protection of State Information Bill (more commonly referred to as the ‘secrecy bill’) would limit the freedom to report by journalists. Zuma replied that the bill was before the Presidency, which was considering whether to sign the bill into law or not.
“A state must have some secrets, there’s no state that would not have secrets, otherwise it’s not a state,” he said, adding that the security of the state could be undermined by reporting that crossed the line.
“The argument (by some people) is that we don’t want any line, we want to report as far as we can. You could be undermining the security of the state,” he said.