29 November 2000
Representatives of the media industry - and that includes colleagues from the community media;
Representatives from civil society especially the trade unions; SANGOCO and the Freedom of Expression Institute;
Editors and the South African National Editors’ Forum;
Friends from foreign embassies and especially those who have been contributing to the struggling community media;
and last but not least, government communicators.
The opening of today’s Government Communicators’ Consultative Conference has the added pleasure of being the formal launch of the Government’s Position Paper on the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA).
We are towards the end of a year that has been yet another exciting chapter in the consolidation of South Africa’s democracy. Last week South Africa hosted a conference on the African Charter, during which I emphasised our country’s commitment to the Charter. I described it as one of the foundation stones of the African dream.
I want to start my address on this occasion by re-affirming the importance of the Charter, and in particular what it has to say about two-way communication between citizen and government.
As people in the media and as government communicators we tend to undermine the very contributions our continent makes to the betterment of humanity.
The Charter embodies our continent’s understanding that there can be no African Renaissance without a vibrant culture and practice that embraces the whole range of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression.
What has particular significance for us here tonight is the two-part declaration of right in Article 9 of the Charter: the right to receive information; and the right to express and disseminate one’s opinions within the law.
Nothing could capture more succinctly the fundamental importance of a two-way flow of communication between citizen and state, nor the fact that the just and truly free society for which we are striving is one whose achievement requires the active participation of informed citizens with the means to express their opinions.
This is why I am glad that I am addressing this august gathering that brings together both media workers and government communication officers.
We share a common responsibility not only to inform the public but also to engage it in the social, political and economic issues of the day.
A demanding public
I have often emphasised that the South African public is a very informed and sophisticated consumer of news. Do not be misled by the high levels of illiteracy which this government is addressing. News gets around - be it in the dusty villages or smog-covered townships. It is examined in different lights, chewed upon, and perhaps after many hours in a shebeen, finally digested.
And as access to information increases so the demand for still more information increases. The appetite for analysis and for more comprehensive explanations increases as more information becomes available.
It is our experience as government that the initial demand for information is very basic - applications for birth certificates, bursaries, licenses of all sorts, jobs etc. We have no doubt that the pressure government will be facing over the next year will be for more niched information - preferably accompanied by detailed background explanations.
Are government communicators and the South African media up to the challenge? I do not intend giving an answer, but I will focus the rest of my presentation on two issues relevant to that question: addressing the improvements in government communications and the government’s position paper on the MDDA.
Improvements in communication
I am glad to note the substantial progress made since the last Consultative Conference. Journalists have often complained about the lack of professionalism amongst some government communicators. One of the common complaints I have heard from journalists is that government communicators have often been out of the loop in relation to their own departments.
These and many other weaknesses were dealt with seriously and honestly at the last conference, which was dubbed a "back to basics" conference. It was agreed that we cannot excuse any communicator who does not return calls or provides public documents to the media.
Since that conference GCIS has taken several steps to raise the level of professionalism amongst government communicators.
A Cabinet memorandum that stipulates measures to improve conditions in the system has been adopted as a framework for improvement in government communications. It introduces Key Permanence Areas and Indicators for the functions of a Head of Communication.
More departments have now appointed Chief Directors as Heads of Communication. This has meant that when the top management of a department meets it has a person with a communication background advising it on communication implications.
This development brings even more responsibility. Now a Head of Communications who is part of top management cannot give the excuse that he or she does not know what the department’s plans are or what its core business processes are. She or he will be required to make strategic inputs into the work of the department. The Head Of Communications will, most importantly, be expected to develop strategies for the Ministry as well.
The GCIS continues striving to implement a training strategy. This can only succeed with the help of individual communicators and departments. I understand that the MLO training programme in Cape Town was very successful and this will be continuing during the next opening of parliament.
One of the historical imbalances that constitute the apartheid legacy is that many of our people cannot be heard and have insufficient access to information. We therefore accord strategic priority to extending the information and communications infrastructure into areas they never reached under apartheid, through such projects as the establishment of Multi Purpose Community Centres, Telecentres and so on.
The continued effort to establish MPCCs confirms our commitment to disseminate government information directly to marginalised communities.
The launches in Tombo, Worcester, Kgautswane, Kimberley, and Sebokeng were sparkling examples of co-operative governance at its best. At the national level virtually every department which is rolling out a local facility is part of the National Steering Committee which also includes the Development Bank, CSIR, Stats SA, HSRC as well as some private sector partners. Provincial governments must be commended for the enthusiasm with which they have entered the partnerships. Several of the MPCCs have involved NGOs; Local authorities and traditional leaders.
Today the sixth MPCC was launched in Qwa Qwa. Again one is dismayed by the lack of enthusiasm shown by the commercial media for such important developments. These initiatives are revolutionising the lives of especially the rural poor and yet they enjoy no coverage.
International marketing campaign
This year was marked by the passing of yet another critical milestone - the launch of the international marketing campaign. Under the slogan "South Africa Unlimited" we have initiated an ambitious campaign to brand South Africa for trade, investment and tourism purposes. The establishment of the International Marketing Council with luminaries drawn from the public and private sectors should be the vanguard of a truly national effort to reposition South Africa in the minds, hearts and pockets of the world.
The international phase of the campaign is due to be launched in May with the domestic leg kicking in early next year. Cabinet has allocated R50m as the first instalment for this initiative.
And now we turn to the long-awaited draft position paper on our proposed Media Development and Diversity Agency. As you all know, when Cabinet adopted the recommendations of Comtask it mandated GCIS to set up an independent agency to act as a catalyst for the further development and diversification of the entire media industry in this country.
Key elements include support for community and other non-profit media, as well as small commercial media enterprises, and ongoing media research and advocacy around various aspects of media development and diversity.
We are proud to present to you today the fruit of extensive research and consultation over the past year and a half. This draft Position Paper was adopted last week by Cabinet as an official government discussion paper. As such it represents the thoughts which government wishes to bring to public discussion and debate. The public is invited to make submissions on any aspect of the paper, and also to participate in a Discussion Forum on our website.
The need for an independent statutory agency to address obstacles to media development and diversity is, we believe, self-evident. South Africa is still burdened by the legacy of the special form of colonial rule that shaped our country. This legacy plays itself out across society, including in the media, where the nature of public discourse is shaped by a multiplicity of factors: patterns of ownership and control; access to infrastructure; and the legacy of a discriminatory education system. As a result the poor and disadvantaged remain marginalised in terms of the media.
While there have been many changes in the media since our country’s first democratic elections in 1994, there is clearly much more that needs to be done. It is common cause that the media in our country in its perspectives still reflects a narrow range of interests, not reflective of our country’s diversity.
Where media institutions continue to be dominated by social forces whose perspectives often run counter to those of the forces that brought liberation and democracy, then the media does not yet have a diversity that corresponds to that of our society.
Addressing the situation requires many initiatives that relate to the composition of news organisations, their management and ownership, training and so on.
The MDDA will not by itself bring about all these changes. But it will play a key catalytic role.
It will not be the first attempt to establish such an agency. What our experience tells us that success will require a strong partnership of government, donors, the private sector and civil society.
The MDDA, like the programme of Multi-Purpose Community Centres, will help improve the communications environment in a way that builds infrastructure and fosters the emergence of media that give expression to voices that are currently marginalised.
It is important to stress that the proposed Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) will not interfere in the content of any newspaper, on-line publication, television or radio station. Its primary purpose is to help create an environment that will allow the media to develop and meet the diverse needs of all South Africans.
This includes those marginalised with respect to the media because of factors such as gender, race, disability, geographical location, class or income as well as the patterns of ownership and control.
It will operate on the best principles of corporate governance - at arms length from government, the media industry and other donors.
It is proposed that the MDDA will have a Board nominated by Parliament through a public process, and appointed by the President. The Board will appoint a CEO. The CEO will, in conjunction with the Board, appoint a small highly skilled and adequately resourced staff.
It will seek collaboration with bodies dealing with telecommunications, licensing, film and video, to achieve co-ordination and avoid duplication. Apart from its primary role of media support, it will commission research and make recommendations to government, the media industry and other relevant bodies.
The MDDA will relate to all bodies with a direct or indirect interest in media development and diversity, amongst them the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) and the Competitions Commission.
The main beneficiaries of direct and indirect support will be community and other non-profit media, as well as small commercial media, including radio, television, print and new media. There will be particular emphasis on projects that bring disadvantaged communities and sectors - particularly women, rural people, the disabled, illiterate people, working class and poor people - into the information and communications loop.
Support will be of a funding and non-funding nature, and will include
- direct and indirect subsidies;
- emergency funding;
- capacity development;
- encouraging social responsibility support in the broadcast, print and new media sectors;
- project evaluation and monitoring; and
- media research.
It will also make recommendations in support of media seeking loan finance, on the basis of its evaluation procedures.
In addition, the MDDA will work towards the emergence of national and provincial common carriers, and/or the implementation of common carrier principles, in the print industry, to ensure equitable access for small publications, and into under-serviced communities.
It will also support the emergence of regional news agencies alongside an effective and independent national news agency.
The resources needed to overcome the current barriers to media development and diversity in full amount to a total of R500m, over five years. It is proposed that the MDDA should seek, with the assistance of government, donors and the media industry, to meet 60 per cent of these needs. That amounts to R300m over five years, or on average R60m per year. Shared equally, that would mean R20m per year from each of government, the media industry and donors.
This draft Position Paper was formulated through consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including statutory bodies, the media and advertising industry, community media, NGOs, academics and trade unions. It is now being presented to the broader public for further comment, before a final Position Paper and draft legislation is presented to Cabinet and Parliament.
In addition, further consultations will be held between ourselves and possible donors - including media owners - during the next two months, to seek agreement around the funding proposal.
This participatory approach is embedded in the character of the proposed MDDA, in that its success rests very much on a partnership between government, the private sector and civil society along with donors.
It is in this spirit that we invite you to submit comments on this paper, so that we can feel sure that the MDDA will meet the needs and expectations of all South Africans.
It can, along with the other initiatives we are engaged in, make a crucial contribution to realising the ideals inscribed in our Bill of Rights, by helping ensure that the least advantaged gain full access to information and the means of expression.
It can help ensure that the right to information and the right to expression and dissemination of opinions are enjoyed by all.
Lastly, this conference has been designed so that we can carry out a true introspection of some of the major campaigns we have undertaken as government over the past years. We need to be vigorous in this exercise so that we can extract the weak links in our system and build solidly on successes to improve our handling of campaigns in the future.
The year ahead is full of new challenges and you are the custodians of government’s communication programme. We look to you for the nation to be informed of what we intend to do as government to consolidate the work of the past six years. May you have a very fruitful and productive conference.
I will now take a few questions on the MDDA Position Paper itself.
Minister in The Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad
Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)