Essop Pahad - Budget vote of South African Communication Service (SACS) & launch of GCIS

18 May 1998

18 May 1998

Madame Speaker;
Honourable members.

This day, 18 March 1998, marks one of the most prominent milestones on the road to a new South African communications order.

The road we hope to travel is ripe with promise; it is so full of hope because we are convinced that our country has a team of communicators who share a common passion for the profession - individual citizens in the public, private and community sectors who wish to see our country succeed.

Today, government sets out on that road as a partner in the communications industry, so that our society in all its ramifications can truly have the freedom of speech and the right to be heard.

In my Budget Vote of last year, I promised that this would be the last time that we discuss a SACS Budget. I dared to say that in future, this occasion would be used to reflect on a new structure, the Government Communications and Information System.

This then will be the better part of my address to you.

However, it is appropriate that I briefly reflect on the work that the South African Communications Service, which closes its books today, has been doing over the past year.

Through its three programmes of administration, communications execution and communications support, this body strove with commendable success in many respects, to render the services required of it in the transition.

It participated in the programme of government to manage the transformation of the public service, to the extent that within a year to December 1997, the personnel complement of this establishment shifted from being 50% Black to 66%.

Through its Audiovisual, Publications and Media Liaison components,

  • it rendered assistance to many departments and RDP Provincial Offices;
  • it contributed support on the occasion of state and other official visits;
  • it produced publications including the
  • it monitored the media and helped with advice in support of government campaigns;
  • it rendered some service to the media such as annual parliamentary briefings;
  • it also conducted research and undertook many liaison activities with local organisations and communities.

ntries of SADC on communications matters.

Though it conducted some of these activities with excellence, the fact of the matter is that SACS suffered from problems of a lack of legitimacy; personnel not trained for the demands of the new democracy; as well as great uncertainty deriving from the transition..

I wish to take this opportunity to thank all the staff at the South African Communications Service who gave their time, energy and skills despite the difficulties they were facing. They can rest assured that they have as much opportunity as anyone else in the profession to become part of the exciting transformation we are now embarking on.

Honourable Members;

We are proud to report that the long drawn-out process of assessing government communications has come to the desired end, with the establishment of the GCIS.

A word of thanks is once more due here to the eminent persons who formed the Communications Task Group set up by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, as well as the Implementation Committee which saw to the operationalisation of the recommendations.

Over the past few months, after Cabinet approval of the steps required, the following officials have taken up their new posts: Joel Netshitenzhe as Chief Executive Officer; Yakoob Abba Omar as the Deputy CEO; Portia Maurice-Mopp as Chief Director of Media Liaison and Tony Trew as Chief Director of Policy and Research.

At the heart of its recommendations, Comtask identified the following critical principle:

"A new information system is an economic and political imperative for the information age. Its purpose must be to provide a network throughout the country which provides every citizen with the information required to live and control their lives".

Indeed, Comtask was echoing the imperative of the Constitution regarding citizens’ freedom of speech. Without such freedom, without the means to access information and to communicate their own activities, ideas and opinions, citizens shall be hapless observers in the process of change. Indeed, the content of that change and its pace will be severely distorted, if not totally undermined.

Among other programmes and activities, the Open Democracy Bill which Cabinet will table in this august Assembly in the next few weeks, speaks of the commitment of this government to openness, accountability and transparency. Government knows too keenly that an informed public is the best driver of social transformation; it is a sure guarantee to the consolidation of our democracy; and it is the most effective builder of a better life.

Madame Speaker;

Guided by the Comtask report and decisions of Cabinet, the new management of Government Communications have engaged in a three-fold process:

Firstly, coming to grips with the competencies in the structures and personnel inherited from SACS and working out a programme for their transformation.

Secondly, consulting with their counterparts in the government communications system, a process which culminated in the Consultative Conference of Government Communicators some two weeks ago, attended by 140 delegates from the national and provincial spheres.

Thirdly, and arising from the above, a set of priorities has been worked out, and the process of implementing them has started - within the limits of available human and other material resources.

Allow me then, Honourable Members, to outline these nd the proposed Budget allocation to Government Communications.

Priority one - Coherent government communications

The GCIS Secretariat has started to operate, on its way to becoming the strategising body located in the Presidency on matters of communications, including policy, planning, research and training.

It has started to service Cabinet, with its head attending Cabinet meetings for this purpose. Strategies on particular issues are discussed with relevant principals; and guidelines on overall communications strategy for the current phase are being finalised.

Recently completed audits undertaken by Government Communications provided insight into the functioning of departmental communications including "adspend" and resources allocated to research. This will assist in the drive to restructure these services and effect savings to the fiscus. In response to their requests, a similar audit is planned in the provinces.

In the next two months, the Secretariat intends to work with the provinces to complete a model for provincial communications structures; and start with regular meetings of communicators among the ministerial clusters and across government as a whole so as to ensure cohst, to ensure that citizens are adequately informed of their rights and how to exercise them; and secondly, assisting communities to access information for socio-economic development in their localities.

This area will stretch the creative capacity of government communicators to its limit.

It means taking on the challenges of illiteracy, as well as the needs of the disabled. It also means working with appropriate bodies to pay requisite attention to the needs of women and the youth.

Development communication will require that, from national to local spheres, Government Communications should strike productive alliances with Non Governmental and Community-Based Organisations, development forums, traditional leaders and others.

As the capacity of GCIS improves, proper mechanisms of integration with the work of local government will be put in place.

Priority three - Effective use of information technology

UNESCO, in its report of the meeting of the Economic Commission for Africa held in Addis Ababa in May 1996, pointed out that technological innovations "have combined with changes facing global and national telecommunication regimes to present a clear window of opportunity for appropriate ‘leapfrog’ strategies to accelerate the development of the continent".

South Africa was honoured some two weeks ago to host a Conference that takes these matters practically forward. And I am certain Minister Jay Naidoo will have gone at length last Wednesday explaining the virtues of new communications technology.

Fully appreciative of this, Government Communications is working closely with this Department in the launch of tele-centres, and with community structures in the development of Multi-purpose Community Centres.

The key iify community information needs and provide as much of that information as possible. At the same time, the strategic nature of these centres as means through which citizens can communicate with government will be promoted.

Priority four - Media relations

In line with government policy, GCIS approaches the media from the premise that they are partners in communications - with both government and the media sharing the responsibility to keep the public informed.

We do acknowledge that the relationship between government and the media needs much improvement. On its part, government will try and ensure better all-round servicing of the media; and we expect that our partners in the media industry will continue, with a new determination, to transform their institutions to meet the demands of our new democracy.

As the Secretariat employs new staff, it will steadily introduce some professionalism into government’s media relations; and act as a servicing arm to departments in their preparation of campaigns, handling of events, strategies and so on. We are however aware that better service to the media in terms of briefings, presentation of information, accessibility and other tasks will require an input from the media themselves.

Priority five - Media diversity

Over the past week, there has been healthy debate on the issue of media diversity and the role of Government Communications in this. As to whether the debate was informed I will leave to others to judge.

Let me first reiterate what the Secretariat said to the Standing Committee on Communications that indeed, as part of the Chief Directorate on Policy and Research, a Directorate on Policy will be set up to deal with policy matters including the vexed question of media diversity.

We need to remind ourselves that the Communications Task Group set up by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki did make the observation that insufficient progress had been made regarding media diversity. This, we believe, is acknowledged across the board.

This is why the Independent Broadcasting Authority is guided by legislation which prescribes a three-tier structure of ownership - public, private and community - and it uses criteria, in granting licenses, which take the issue of diversity into account.

Diversity includes the composition of the news-rooms; and this is why the South African National Editors’ Forum has set up a special committee to look into this question.

As the Secretariat explained to the Standing Committee last week, Comtask recommended that the issue of diversity in the ownership of print media should be dealt with, firstly, through normal competitions policy regulating all sectors; and this policy is being finalised by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Secondly, it proposed that legislation should be introduced ensuring that distribution of newspapers and magazines is conducted on a n most democracies. And we believe that the issue of availability of printing resources also needs some attention.

We need to underline that, among the most crucial challenges in addressing the issue diversity of voices, is assistance to small and community media establishments, both print and electronic. This, as Comtask recommended, will be done through an independent Media Development Agency, to which, we believe, both government and commercial media enterprises should contribute.

It is common cause that these measures will require clear policy, and some of them will need specific legislation. This is what the relevant Directorate will address; and the determination of final policy will be handled in consultation with all role-players, including community media.

We hope that this issue will be addressed on the basis of its merits, underpinned by the need to ensure that all South Africans, not just the rich and the powerful, not only enjoy the freedom of speech; but do have the right in actual practice, to be heard.

Priority six - Training and industry-wide relations

As Honourable Members will appreciate, the above priorities cannot be addressed unless we improve the competence of gexpertise within broader society.

This will be done, firstly by establishing a small and focussed National Training Board which will assist in raising the professional capacity among the government communicators’ corps. The other approach will be the establishment of a proposed consultative Communicators’ Forum comprising of individuals from journalism, advertising, academia and other media disciplines.

Madame Speaker;

These then are the main priorities as the Government Communications and Information Service starts operating. Of course these tasks do have their organisational, operational and financial implications. Let me reiterate some of them:

Firstly, rationalisation across governmeesult in savings for the fiscus.

Secondly, within GCIS itself, there will be both savings and more expenditure as it starts to fulfil its mandate. The balance in this regard will emerge in the next few weeks as the various sections are established and finalise their programmes.

Our approach will be to establish the needs on an on-going basis and phase in the new structures and operations without demanding resources that we cannot utilise. We will be guided in this regard by the decision of Cabinet that: "The GCIS will, at the outset, work within the existing budget approved for SACS. It may, however, as operations get underway, find it necessary to request a larger budget or additional funds for specific purposes".

Madame Speaker and Honourable Members;

The tasks that lie ahead of Government Communications loom large and daunting. They will require of the Secretariat, all government communicators including the political principals, an appreciation of the need to improve this area of our work with utmost urgency. They will require clear strategies and programmes based on manageable time frames.

Indeed, our approach will need to be sober and realistic, recognising the urgency of the tasks at hand; but appreciating that it will take time to reach our ideals.

The confidence cans across the spectrum do appreciate the need that we should speak to one another, not past each other; and that an informed citizenry is critical for reconstruction and development, nation-building and reconciliation to succeed.

Government Communications is only a small contribution to the broader task at hand.

Together, in the communications industry, we have it within our power, like Prometheus, at last to deliver in its full measure, the fire stolen from the Gods, so that ordinary South Africans should not suffer from darkness.

We intend fully to co-operate with structures of this House in fulfilling this task.

Deputy Minister in the Office of the Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad

Issued by: South African Communication Service (SACS)



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