Essop Pahad - Keynote address: Third Government Communicators' Consultative Conference

22 July 1999

22 July 1999

The Chairperson, the GCIS Secretariat, Provincial Directors of Communication, Communicators from Ministries, Departments and Commissions

Can this dream which Bill Gates painted for in "The Road Ahead" become the South Africa of the future? "The day has almost arrived when you can easily conduct business, study, explore the world and its cultures, call up great entertainment, make friends, go to neighbourly markets, and show pictures to your relatives, wherever they are - without leaving your desk or your armchair."

I do not use the term historic easily but I believe this Communicators' Conference occurs at a unique moment in the history of this country. It occurs at a time when two major forces are coming together: a new type of government ushered in by the 2 June elections and when the conditions favourable for South Africa moving decisively into the Information Age are coalescing.

You as communicators, committed to meeting the information needs of all South Africans, should be the shock troops in this revolution - both in governance and in the information order - South Africa will be undergoing.

I believe that this future lies in the hands of each one of us - the journalist and the policeman; the editor and the homemaker; the teacher, newspaper vendor, and camera crew; the industrialist and worker, the professional, the nurse and the student.

During your deliberations you will need to work out strategies on how we can ensure that our uncles and aunts in the villages, our parents toiling on the land or in factories, our brothers and sisters at schools or colleges and our neighbours in the townships and cities can become part of this Information Age.

Such an Information Age is to be characterised on the one hand by a commitment to informing the public of all of government's work. On the other hand it is to be manifested in government engaging in true dialogue with the public - a government which is caring and responsive to the needs and anxieties of the pu shall be a visible programme of contact with the people to report back on progress being made and to learn from them - constantly strengthening the contract government has made with the nation. As you have seen from the past four weeks of this government we hope to inspire and mobilise the nation with a clear vision about ves we have set can be attained.

Your creativity and nimbleness as communicators should be harnessed in ensuring the success of this dialogue between government and the people.

Opportunities should be exploited, situations created for government to listen to the needs of the people, to communicate to the public government's advances and explain its shortcomings.

A key area that government will be concentrating on is governance as a process. Reinventing government has become the rallying call of reformists trying to transform huge uncaring bureaucracies and to replace them with institutions more in tune with the needs of the public and committed to meeting these needs.

I am outlining some of the challenges government faces to provide a backdrop to your deliberations, and to your work in the coming months and years.

In keeping with the commitment to reinventing government we seek to modernise the management and operational style of the Public Service guided by the dictum of Batho Pele - People First. We shall appreciate feedback from the public about the efficiency of the public service, its attitude and spirit of service at the point of delivery.

Integrated governance shall become a major feature of this government.

You have already seen evidence of the cluster approach at the ministerial level. Government communicators will need to ensure that their work is shaped by the deliberations within the ministerial clusters, and that what you do and say reflects this new approach both in content and style. The relationship between local, provincial and national spheres as well as traditional leaders shall also be further developed through consultations. The GCIS has spared no effort in strengthening links with provincial communicators. Conferences such as these should help share problems being faced and lessons learnt.

I suppose that this conference will also address the issue of co-ordination at least at the regional and district levels. We can make an integrated impact on delivery by moving towards one-stop government centres.

We have found that in specific localities you find all kinds of government offices: labour offices, welfare points, licensing departments and so forth. Those who can barely afford to move from one office to another will benefit from having all their requirements of government under one roof. The long- term cost-saving for the country as a whole is incalculable. But, even more virtually, is the improvement in the quantity of service to the people, by government as corporate entity.

This government is busy crafting a Public Service which is shaped according to the needs of the citizenry, consuming the minimum of public resources and with an output that ensures the realisation of government programmes. We are committed to ensuring that the Public Service is driven by a new morality. What we are appealing for is that our social partners - be they in business or in the media - help us in setting this nation on a new moral footing.

The bedrock of our Constitution and our society has been the deep and shared commitment to human rights that we as South Africans have displayed over and over again. Forged in the crucible of struggle against a regime which became the benchmark for repression, this democracy of ours needs the careful nurturing of each one of us. This can only happen when all citizens are familiar with their human rights and responsibilities with particular repressed.

These refer particularly to women, workers, the disabled and children.

We can only say that we are engaging in development communication when people are fully conversant with their rights and are actively accessing the multimedia of opportunities that the new order offers.

Parliament, provincial legislatures, and local councils should become more accessible to the public as a means for the citizen to exercise their rights. You can help in achieving that.

The recent history of government communication has undergone two key milestones: the presentation of the final Comtask Report in October 1996 and the launch of GCIS on 18 May 1998 I would like us to achieve two milestones before the end of this year:

  • The establishment of the cluster approach in communications. I am pleased to see that this features prominently large in the agenda for this conference.
  • The piloting of the first few one-stop government information centres.

This will provide an even better platform for the implementation of the Government Communication Strategy adopted by the Cabinet two weeks ago.

The Ministers-in-Cabinet committed themselves to ensure that this strategy is implemented; and I hope you are assisti (012) 326-0317

Minister in The Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad

es. It crosses borders; it allows information to be disseminated to and from the tiniest community in the most isolated society.

In this, the dawn of the African Century, we must exploit that potential to build a greater understanding of our continent and its people. We must use the technology at our disposal to build bridges of understanding between various communities, to empower the people of Africa with information which can contribute to their sustainable development. We must use it to build our understanding of the diverse strengths and weaknesses of our continent, to share our common problems and to jointly find solutions.

As Africans, we have been among the greatest innovators on our planet. We need to draw again on that resourcefulness and creativity to provide new solutions to the challenges facing our continent - challenges which exploit the opportunities created by the information revolution.

Secondly, we have to acknowledge that the information revolution can contribute greatly to the rebirth of a culture of learning and reading in our country.

The ongoing declines in many newspaper circulation figures are an indication, to some extent, of a wider problem: a decline in reading, whether it be books, magazines or journals. These declines are only matched by the rapid increases in Internet subscribers, particularly among our youth, and a switch to more youth-focused radio and TV programmes.

But we all know that the youth are the key to rebuilding a reading culture, and we hope that you will use your resources to help promote such a culture, working hand in hand with those in the literacy field, in the print media, and in civil society as a whole. Today's Internet we can inculcate the culture of reading - as opposed to browsing - our country will be all the richer.

There is a third challenge particularly for those involved in electronic journalism: the challenge of using computer-assisted research and reporting to provide your subscribers with access to more and more information.

Computers, electronic databases and the world-wide web allow journalists to more rigorously monitor and scrutinise the activities of those in power. They are powerful resources in the hands of an investigative journalist, and we trust that the media profession is making maximum use of these resources - as well as training its members in how to use this technology to its maximum.

But when they turn their electronic magnifying glass on those in power, we hope they will not only focus on those few crooked public servants who sully the name of government.

Yes, the activities of Government must be scrutinised. Our President has made this clear in all his recent public statements, and repeatedly stated that we will be tough on corruption, and tough on the people responsible for corruption.

We are striving, for example, to finalise the Open Democracy Bill during the next Parliamentary session, which will provide South Africans with the tools they require to ensure public scrutiny of government. It will also protect whistleblowers within the public service who come across corrupt practices, providing an incentive for public-minded public servants to come forward with the information we need to clean out corrupt elements.

But Government does not have a monopoly on corruption. There are bigger, more dishonest crooks in the corporate sector who tempt Government employees with bribes and kickbacks. There are also hundreds of incidents of blue-collar crime which go unreported by business and are therefore unrecorded by the media. Because of this culture of silence, and the lack of probing by the media, the corporate crooks can contribute to wheel and deal their way to excessive wealth through corrupt practices, scams and shady deals.

We believe the media has a critical role to play in using this new technology to expose ALL corrupt practices, not just committed by a few bad apples in Government. We hope you are prepared to rise to the occasion, so that the RDP of the Soul that the President referred to, becomes a reality.

Of course, we all know that revolutions do not just bring new rights. They also bring new responsibilities, and we hope you are not just aware of these responsibilities but are committed to meeting them.

These new responsibilities include a commitment to tell the truth, a commitment to balanced reportage; a commitment to presenting all sides of the story before publication; a commitment to fairness.

There are broader social responsibilities. For example, in his speech at the Opening of Parliament the President said we can nre a permanent condition of existence in Africa.

We believe the media has responsibility to contribute in whatever way possible to the resolution of conflict on our continent. We cannot accept that the media continue to fan conflict and heighten the political temperature by enforcing stereotypes, emphasising division and reporting untruths. Nor can we accept one-sided reporting or coverage which presents issues out of context.

In the same speech, President Mbeki pointed out that we all have to make a contribution to the construction of a new world order that will be responsive to the needs of the poor.

It is this responsibility which perhaps poses one of the greatest challenges to those of you here today: how can you use what you have to highlight the plight of the poor - and to bring issues of poverty to the attention of the rest of society of the rest of society, so that we may find solutions?

In conclusion: As you know, successful revolutions have winners and losers. There are those who benefit from their activities, and those who suffer.

In the case of your revolution, it would be a travesty if the only beneficiaries were the owners of these means of communication. It would be a traves further enrich the information rich and further deprive the information-hungry. It would be a particular travesty if the technology and innovation were used to consolidate existing information power relationships rather than change them.

For this reason, we hope you will use your innovation, your resourcefulness and your access to information and research to make a substantive difference to those who are most in need of credible information.

This could be done through your own innovation and initiative. It could be done through partnerships with Government, for example with our Government Communication and Information System. It could be done through the development of joint projects to provide information and knowledge ise with the people charged with communicating on behalf of Government.

That is the challenge I would like to leave you with: to act as true information revolutionaries, working in partnership with Government to bring about progressive change for the people of South Africa and the continent as a whole. We want what the President calls a common effort to build a winning nation - with everyone, yourselves included, involved in the effort to work for a better South Africa.

Indeed, ours must in actual practice become a nation at work to build a better life!

I thank you.

Minister in The Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)


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