Obed Bapela - MDDA/Sanlam Local Media Awards and inaugural Rantho/Letsebe Community Media Achievement Awards

13 May 2012

13 May 2012

Programme Directors,
Deputy Minister of Communications, Ms Thembisa Stella Ndabeni,
Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications, MP Skhumbuzo Eric Kholwane,
Member of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications, MP Susan Tsebe,
Chairperson of the Board of the Media Development and Diversity Agency, Ms Gugu Msibi,
Board members of MDDA,
Chief Executive Officer of MDDA, Lumko Mtimde,
GCIS CEO, Jimmy Manyi,
Chief Executive Officer of SENTECH, Dr Setumo Mohapi,
Chief Executive Officer of PANSALB, Sibusiso Nkosi,
Family of the late Cde Tshepo Rantho,
Family of the late Cde Harry Letsebe,
Distinguished Guests

I am honoured to participate in this MDDA/Sanlam Local Media Awards and the inaugural Rantho/Letsebe Community Media Achievement Awards. It is my understanding that tonight’s event is aimed at celebrating excellence of local media professionals and their achievements. This is a platform for community media, small commercial media and local media owned by the mainstream to reflect on their work, showcase their unmeasured excellence practiced at grassroots level and celebrate the achievements. Also, this is an opportunity for the country to look at grassroots players in the media landscape, assess this sector’s growth and contribution to the industry, and how we diversifying the media landscape.

His Excellency President Jacob Zuma always says South Africa needs a media that is free, diverse, critical and independent,South Africa will always protect, defend and promote media freedom. It is through investment in this sector of the media which is closer to the people, that we will be able to develop and grow a diverse media which is critical in our democracy and to stimulate our thinking on how we can move our dynamic society and economy forward.

Programme Director, let me reiterate that this government is committed to freedom of expression and freedom of the media. This government will not do anything to erode what is guaranteed as a fundamental right in our constitution.

Recognition of excellence is vital in encouraging enhancement of professionalism and skills development in the media. Media is the key witness and player in our national dialogue, as is to be expected in a vibrant democracy such as ours. Media plays a role entrenched by our Constitution because the architects of our democratic Constitution, most of whom came from progressive movements, insisted on media freedom as a fundamental feature of our new society. Diverse media is essential in ensuring that views and opinions of all citizens are heard. We often have to be careful as we navigate the distinction between being diverse in outlook and approach, and being divided along historical or newly invented lines.
Social cohesion, national unity and interest are not experiences or attributes that are bestowed on a society such as ours. Instead, their attainment is the product of continuous dialogue with its consequences of conflict and concession.

It is therefore appropriate that we participate in this MDDA/Sanlam Local Media Awards and the Inaugural Rantho/Letsebe Community Media Achievement Award, in the month in which we marked World Press Freedom Day. In this context, we are inclined to assert without fear of contradiction that media in our country is free.  Media practitioners, community media activists and members of the intelligentsia, who sought to mobilise South Africans around the cause for freedom, raise awareness internationally of the suppression and brutality that confronted us on home soil, and shaped this struggle.
On the other hand, this struggle shaped many such practitioners and thinkers and the thought leadership which was developed over time inside the country and elsewhere. South Africa’s liberation struggles, as led and contributed to by thinkers, writers, journalists and other media workers and organizations, date back centuries, as evidenced by contributions by the African National Congress early leaders such as Charlotte Maxeke, Ruth First, Sol Plaatje, Pixley ka Isaka Seme and John Dube, to name but a few.

(I think I should have also been mentioned to these great giants having worked as a practitioner in the early 90’s during the era of the alternative media,having worked for Learn and Teach, SASCO and The New Nation).

South Africa’s turbulent history and the passage from apartheid to democracy has made its people remarkably news hungry, fed by a robust, free and flourishing press. This is made possible by community media, radio, television and print, small commercial media and other local media owned by the mainstream. The proliferation of media reflects government’s acceptance of the role that media play in our society in ways that cannot be taken for granted in other parts of our continent or the world at large.
In addition, a free media is specifically cited as an integral part of our democracy. All of this suggests that government and the media play crucial roles in upholding and protecting a democratic society.  It would be fair to say that in a democratic society the one cannot exist without the other.

In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on slander, obscenity and incitement to commit a crime. The right to freedom of speech and expression, is closely related to other rights and may be limited when conflicting with other rights. In South Africa the right to freedom of expression is expressly limited when it comes to propaganda for war; incitement of imminent violence; or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
The overall legal framework guarantees the right of all South Africans to freedom of expression. However, balancing the different rights in the Constitution against freedom of expression, divergent views as expressed in various court judgments have arisen. Over the last decade the right to freedom of speech has been rigorously upheld by the courts. However, several high courts have set major precedents by endorsing the principle of freedom of expression in defamation cases by public figures in the cause of it being in the “in the public interest”.

The recent controversy justified as freedom of expression, deserves mentioning and condemnation, it is the art that depicts our President in a bad light and this can go for any ordinary South African who should not find themselves depicted in this distasteful and degrading manner. This has racial connotations to it and it seems like blacks are on the receiving end all the time.  
A major responsibility facing the country is to deal with its dark history in terms of constructing a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society. This is not just the responsibility of government; media is called upon, in the spirit of the Constitution, to use its influence and resources in helping the country to achieve this important goal. This government sees freedom of the media as essential to build an open and an inclusive information society, to peace and development in general. Our people, in particular both the rural and the peripheral areas of our cities who continue to be excluded on access to information. As the saying goes “Information is Power” therefore gives the informed more power, and the uninformed and ignorant it renders them weaker. Both the commercial and community print media in terms of circulation still does not reach everybody, however we are still encouraged by the high level of radio penetration that stands at 90%, and the recent advancement of technology in a form of mobile, which continues to reach the majority of individuals.
South Africa depends on a free press to be forthright and steadfast in rooting out injustice, campaign for morality and truth, uphold ideals of honesty and transparency in public life and above all, provide the platform for citizens to be informed of events/information that are inimical to their everyday existence. This administration is responsive not only to the needs of our people, but also to how we are perceived by the nation, or how our country is perceived by our international counterparts.

In the year after our fifth general elections, we will have the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals, also we be reflecting on how we would have fared in two decades of democracy, in simpler terms we will be assessing the achievements of our country against the two milestones the MDG’s and the second decade of freedom. Already our country has embarked on the National Planning Commission and is developing Vision 2030, a blueprint for our development over the next 20 years. The plan was released on the 11th of November 2011.
The mentioning of these milestones – alongside our growing importance in the international system, is to ask to what extent community, small commercial and other local media owned by the mainstream are guiding South Africans towards these key developments and challenges. Mobilising the nation in support of our developmental objectives and building faith in public institutions rather than creating a crisis of confidence. This is a challenge to which media could rise with the possible outcome of a vigilant yet motivated and high-achieving society.
Indeed, a motivated, high-performance, united, non-sexist, prosperous South Africa is one that will enable more South Africans to realise their rights under the Constitution than is the case today. This is the common good in the national interest. These are issues around which we need to build national morale and confidence, in order to inspire people to become active participants in taking this country further forward from the remarkable progress we have engineered since 1994.

Since 1994, media itself has undergone transformation, but one could ask if more couldn’t be done to enhance the composition of newsrooms and ownership alike to represent the full diversity of South African society. It is also crucial that media examine and improve the representation of women at all levels within the media industry.
One could also ask whether the interplay between international media reporting and by local media is adequately interrogated, and whether the increasingly important role of social and new media in transcending boundaries is sufficiently considered. We raise these questions in the interest of wishing to assist in the development of our media sector in the same way that we are helping other sectors of our economy and society to develop.

We also raise these questions as the country and the journalism profession in particular is discussing the industry conduct. The recent review of the Press Code of Conduct and the Press Freedom Commission recommendation are noted. We will however engage with the results of their work in pursuit of a media serving the public and national interest and media diversity, and also encourage parliament to start its own process of soliciting views from society in particular targeting those who could not participate in the press freedom bill to hear their side of the story.
We believe the efficiency of the country’s media sector should reflect our overall development as a country and should establish this sector as a centre of excellence within our economy and our extensive programme of international relations. The Government is committed to supporting community media and small commercial media as defined in terms of the MDDA Act, alternative media and other new media initiatives aimed at diversifying the media landscape.

Our democracy needs a diverse media and in particular local media produced in languages spoken in our communities in order to ensure a two way communication and a people centred democracy. Let’s take a lesson from Vu’kuzenzele produced by GCIS in all languages including Braille, and to others that might have started.

I hereby congratulate all the entrants, runners up, finalists and winners for the MDDA/Sanlam Local Media Awards and the Inaugural Rantho/Letsebe Community Media Achievement Award 2012.

I thank you

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