Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi’s address at SADC Media Award launch

23 January 2015

23 January 2015

Programme Director
Acting  DG
Diplomats from different Embassies
The President of SANACO (South African National Apex Cooperative), Mr Lawrence Bale
The Chairperson of the NAC ( National Adjudication Committee)- Ms Nomonde Gongxeka
The Director of  IAJ (Institute for the advancement of Journalism), Mr Michael Schmidt
Members of the National Adjudication Committee
Editors of media houses
Communicators from different organisations
Academics from different learning institutions
All media practitioners
Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you very much for inviting me to be a speaker at this very auspicious occasion. It is crucial that media practitioners always find time to acknowledge those amongst you who are excellent examples of what you all should strive to be. The SADC awards are crucial part of the rejuvenation of our region and the continuous building of bridges amongst the people of SADC. Having journalists who understand the developmental imperatives is key in the region’s ultimate and sustainable socioeconomic development. Often the only overriding African Continent’s stories told are that of wars, famine and diseases. They are stories of despair corruption and disintegration. Yet across our African continent there are so many stories of excellence, success and hope to tell.

We need to use these kinds of competitions to highlight such stories of hope and optimism and elevate those who tell them. Let me hasten to add that this does not detract from the crucial and critical role that journalists should play in holding society at large accountable. Our people must be empowered with information that will assist them to access resources meant for their own development and of the areas where they live.  All we are arguing for is that Africa must begin to tell its good story and not allow a narrative of negativity to persist and override all that the world gets to know about us. Is such balanced journalism possible? I believe it is.

In his book ... “AFRICA IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS” ....Victor Kgomoeswana a television and radio anchor who specializes in African affairs  highlights up  to fifty headlines that have characterized how the media has reported on Africa over the last ten years ...only a few of these headlines had to do with famine coups  and because amid the wars and other  negatives many positive stories have emerged told by African journalists with the same journalistic excellence as those that thrive on only those stories that show Africa in a bad light. Victor Kgomoeswana called these 'TEN YEARS OF GAME CHANGING HEADLINES', some examples of the stories Victor highlights in his book are the opportunities of economic growth in Kenya, the boom of the internet in Rwanda ahead of many countries including South Africa and Nigeria that consider themselves economic giants.

It takes Afro-optimism to go to Rwanda and highlight less about the genocide and the tribalism that is often the focus of many journalists and instead see the best advancement ever related to the next generation use of the Internet. It takes a similar courage to report less about thousands dying in Kenya after an election gone wrong and report more about the advancement of that country as a shining economy in Africa.

Amongst the fifty headlines here is a sample of nine (9) that stand out and show how it is easy to find good news in our continent.

  • Tanzania ...the rare gem of East Africa Hydro Electronic Power Projects of Ethiopia.
  • The story of Ethiopian Airline and the Dreamliner's Africa's first.
  • South Sudan…Africa’s newest State
  • Diversity in the Nigerian Economy
  • Ghana and the Oil spring
  • Africa's first elected woman President
  • Zimbabwe the exporter of work ethic and hospitality
  • Mauritius is more than just a holiday spot
  • Botswana ...too important to ignore

Despite some of the negative stories that underline challenges such as the DRC’s conflict diamonds or Nigeria's 419 scam Victor concludes overall that, “Africa is open for business”. Says Victor "Over the last ten years foreign direct investments inflows have risen consistently for longer than a decade, sealing the argument about whether or not the continent is a place to do business". This is a crucial narrative precisely because the stories that are negative about Africa scare away investors or at least some of them are aimed at creating an impression of a continent not open for business but busy lurching from one crisis to the next. The reality however is that if you look at an area like mineral resources we have so much of this it can outlast those of any other continent.

These awards must therefore assess those that are able to paint a true picture and not only an easy and half-baked story of things falling apart. With the challenges our continent is facing regarding development such stories of poverty and inequality are easy to find. It takes a special journalist to find that true balance that will show the world the hidden gems of this wonderful continent and conclude that we are ready to trade with the world as equals so that our people can be lifted out of poverty.

This event takes places hot on the heels of murders of journalists in France's satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. Journalists who were murdered for the views they hold. This triggered a worldwide awakening of how we should deal with challenges around freedom of expression.

SADC is very clear in its policy pronouncements that journalists must be given the space to do their work and contribute to public dialogue. We condemn utterly the targeting of journalists for harassment and terrorism. We call on all countries of SADC and beyond to release all journalists in detention and create an atmosphere of cooperation between the fourth estate and governments.  This hardly means that we will always see eye to eye but the cardinal principle must remain. We must defend each other’s rights to hold different views. When this principle is not respected, democracy starts to erode. There is no excuse for deviating from that principle no matter how offended we may feel.

The question of the limitation of rights where we have mutual respect for each other while exercising our freedom of expression is well established. Emphasizing this does not detract from the commitment to freedom of the press. Often the press fails to introspect where they also cross the line of denigrating others in society in the course of exercising this freedom of expression. This must be avoided and competitions of this nature must also be used to hold up the mirror to those of you who are the fourth estate and honestly evaluate where you may be going wrong. 

Media holds a powerful position in society. Reckless use of this position has in the past resulted in the destruction of people's reputations and even lives. It is not a role that must be taken lightly and so its responsible execution is paramount.

The media, like all sectors of our society also have a role to rebuild our countries ravaged by years of colonialism. It can't possibly be correct that the media should be exempted from answering questions about its role in transformation. Journalists who often correctly question others in society about their commitment to change seldom focus on the role of media houses and bosses who are their employers about the change they want to see in others.

This can't be right! Do the journalists we want to award and hold out as examples, the kind that have enough courage to challenge even the hand that feeds them? Or is this only applicable to their criticism of government who must grin and bear it and even pay for this criticism to continue unabated? These are some of the crucial questions that as we elevate some amongst you as the role models we must at the same time answer these questions.

I want to wish all the best to those who will be nominated and those who have to adjudicate. Your decisions will set an example of how journalism will flourish in our region. Those who are held out as role models will also have a huge responsibility to inspire those who are still pondering to enter this brave profession.

Wishing you a pleasant evening further.

Thank you.

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