Pretoria: Representatives of government and media met today in a working session to discuss matters impacting on their working relationships.
The government delegation, led by the President and Deputy President, included the Minster in the Presidency and Ministers of Safety & Security, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry and Public Enterprises and the Deputy Ministers of Home Affairs, Justice and Foreign Affairs. The Sanef delegation, led by the Sanef Management Committee, included editors and senior journalists from some twenty titles, and analysts.
Both sides welcomed the meeting, noting that it was six years since the Sun City meeting. It was agreed that in future such meetings should be held annually. In addition it was recognised that there might be differences in understanding of the issues on the part of government and media that required more extensive probing of the issues.
Reports were exchanged on progress in implementing commitments made at Sun City. While much progress had been made, there were areas requiring further attention as well as new issues arising in the context of a rapidly changing media environment and socio-economic transformation in the second decade of freedom.
The following issues received particular attention.
With regard to the Film and Publication Bill the media expressed continuing concern at the impact that provisions of the bill would have on the work of the media. Recognising that the National Assembly had passed the Bill and that the executive could not withdraw it, the right of the media to lobby the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and if necessary approach the Constitutional Court was noted.
It was agreed that there would be a meeting as soon as possible of Sanef, Government Communications (GCIS) and Home Affairs at ministerial level, preceded by a meeting of legal advisers. With regard to Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act it was noted that despite meetings of Sanef with all three Ministers of Justice, media concerns remained. It was agreed that Sanef, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and GCIS would meet within a month.
Both sides agreed on the importance of self-regulation as the primary route for dealing with such issues and in this regard it was noted that the media are strengthening their codes of ethics and conduct.
Instances of inaccurate reporting and limited depth were raised by government and discussed. It was agreed that the credibility of the media as a source of reliable information is of vital importance to our society. The media will continue to take steps, including training and the application of their codes of ethics to minimise publication of inaccurate information. For its part government would continue strengthening its communication capacity to assist the media in ensuring accuracy and promoting depth of coverage. Better mutual understanding of how the two institutions deal with information and communication should be promoted, including through internships and exchange of personnel.
It was agreed that there was a need for greater working interaction between government and media to facilitate increased coverage of government, particularly in Pretoria, and to deal with problems before they become critical.
In this regard it was agreed that changes in the media landscape and in our society are bringing major challenges for both media and government with regard to the quality of journalism. These include the pressure of the bottom-line on resources, and research and newsgathering infrastructure; increasing homogenisation of content; lack of the flow of information from government and the need to increase speed of information flow; the challenge of broadening the reach of print media to those who prefer to receive information in African languages; the quality of our training institutions and the capacity of media and government to support the development of journalists and communicators. It was agreed that government and media should discuss how such constraints can be addressed in order to strengthen our democracy.
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Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS) and Sanef