GCIS budget vote 2000: Information and communication programme


7 March 2000

One of GCIS’ principal objectives is to attend to the media, communications and information environment within which communication and the dissemination of information and opinion on public affairs takes place, in order to help expand access in conformity with the ideals of our democracy

Attending to the media, communications and information environment defines a wide range of GCIS activities: it includes those aimed at promoting media development and diversity and extending the infrastructure for government to disseminate information and for communities to register their needs.

It includes participation, as a stakeholder and at times as lead department, in those policy processes that reflect the impact of developments in Information and Communication Technology on communication and dissemination of information.

And it includes actively ensuring that developments in ICT are translated into wider public access to government information and added impetus to the process of media development that extends into areas of South African society which have been marginalised with respect to media access and involvement.

This section of our briefing updates the Portfolio Committee on our main activities in these fields, and outlines of some of the perspectives that are developing.

1. Media Development Agency

One thrust in our programme to address inequity in media and communication matters is the establishment of Government Information Centres (GICs) in the context of the programme for setting up Multi Purpose Community Centres – an issue that has already been addressed by the Deputy Chief Executive Officer.

The second leg of our efforts to ensure that the diverse sectors, interests and perspectives feel at home in our communications environment is the establishment of the Media Development Agency. The objectives and the background to that initiative are well-known and we believe form part of the consensus on the basis of which we are consolidating our democracy and building our nation. Today we report on the process to date and how we see things unfolding.

GCIS has formulated a framework document to inform the proposed character of the MDA.

This is work in progress in the sense that it is being developed through discussion and interactive consultation with all relevant sectors including in provinces.

Insofar as it draws on a consensus of an Interdepartmental Committee (comprising the Departments of Communication, Education, Trade and Industry, Finance, Arts & Culture, Science & Technology as well as the Policy co-ordination and Advisory Services in the Presidency and GCIS as lead department), it reflects thinking in government.

It has been refined through our participation in National and Provincial Seminars organised by the National Community Media Forum and Freedom of Expression Institute and in consultations with regulators (IBA; Satra; USA, Competitions Commission; and Human Rights Commission); media owners; NGOs and other civil society groups concerned with the media.

A final round of consultation with these sectors and constituencies is in progress, and once the document is ratified by the Interdepartmental Committee it will be published for public comment.

It is also being informed through research in particular on the financial aspects of such an agency.

When the process is completed and the document has been finalised by the Interdepartmental Committee, it will be released for public comment. We expect this to happen by the middle of the year.

In the meanwhile an Interim Media Funders’ Forum has been established representing currently providing funding to promote media development. This includes both local and foreign funders. Those who have been engaged in this process include: Kgaso Fund; Open Society Foundation; Independent Media Diversity Trust; Print Development Unit of the Print Media South Africa; UNESCO National Commission (SA); Heinrich Boll Stiftung; Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Department of Arts & Culture Interim Film Fund. This has been done to promote exchange of views and co-ordination of urgent funding pending the establishment of the MDA.

We believe that a solid commonality of views is emerging, not merely on the need for an MDA, but also on its broad character.

2. Information and Communication Technology

One way in which thinking around the Media Development Agency has evolved is greater recognition of the relevance of the so-called New Media for media development and diversity. To that extent it also integrates with our general interest in developments in Information and Communication Technology.

That interest led us to accept an offer from the British Council to send our Director of Policy to a conference currently in progress in Malaysia on the theme of the Global Knowledge Partnership.

As noted above, our interest in technology leads us actively to participate in policy processes lead by other departments, both as government communicators and as stakeholders in the field of ICT, such as those concerned with e-Commerce; IT Policy for the Public Sector and the South African Industrial Strategy Project.

We also have an immediate and practical concern to make sure that we make the most of developments in ICT to promote the achievement of the objectives that define the business of GCIS.

Naturally the Internet is critical to this effort. Our Annual Report indicates the rapid expansion in usage of the Government Online web site, launched in January last year.

Major extensions of both the Government Online and GCIS web sites lie ahead. One will come with the roll-out of the Government Information Centres and the MPCCs, for which the GCIS web-site will provide a readily and continuously accessible reference point for the answers to Frequently Asked Questions mentioned earlier, and as a complement to the Call-Centre that is planned.

Another, mentioned elsewhere in this briefing, is the hosting of Bua Online as an on-line news service aiming to provide a central news dissemination point servicing the media.

As the Public Information Terminals are established across the country, in a programme led by the Department of Communications, it is expected that Government Online will provide the access to government information and in particular government forms that is needed if the PITs are to meet the public’s needs.

These are just some of the most prominent features of an all-out effort to ensure that the most advanced technology is enlisted in the task of establishing a government communication and information system worthy of our democracy.

Tony Trew, Chief Director: Policy & Research, GCIS