The following are the key priorities identified by the Secretariat for the GCIS's first operational year (May to December 1998):
Coherent government message
The main challenge for communication is to ensure coherence and consistency in both content of message and method of delivery. The GCIS, through its participation in these structures or through close liaison with them, will assist in ensuring such coherence. The central message for the past year has been: The foundation has been laid and the building has begun: Together let us build on the foundation.
This is information directed primarily at communities such as those in rural areas, townships, the illiterate, the youth and women to empower them both to know their rights and to take full advantage of socio-economic opportunities. This will be achieved through systematic co-operation, including through the GCIS Bua News Service, with community radio stations and those directed at disadvantaged areas.
The GCIS is also co-operating with the Department of Communications to improve relations with the Universal Service Agency in the programme to establish and service 'telecentres' and multi-purpose community information centres. Quite critical in this area is the work with provinces and regional GCIS offices to set up an infrastructure for creative communication programmes. In the medium term, the GCIS wishes to participate in the discussion regarding the establishment of district 'one-stop' government centres, which should include information centres.
Restructuring the government communication system to be more cost-effective
The Secretariat will hold regular meetings with ministerial and departmental communicators. The relationship between the GCIS and the provincial communication structures also has to be defined. Areas of collaboration within the system include that of strategy and message; international image-building; bulk-buying of advertising space, and training.
Training of government communicators to improve competence
One of the immediate Comtask proposals that the GCIS had to attend to is the establishment of a National Training Board for government communication. This will service the whole of government and will include trainers from the communication industry as a whole. It is intended to employ a person dedicated to training who will operate contractually in setting up the Board. Furthermore, a National Communication Forum is being set up as a consultative group for individuals from various sectors of the communication industry.
Better servicing of the media
The GCIS relationship with the media has to be built on the recognition of the principle that they are partners in communication, sharing a common responsibility and obligation: that of keeping the public informed. At the same time, the GCIS will explore avenues to ensure that a diversity of voices can be heard through the South African media.
The relationship, however, needs improvement: the GCIS has to ensure better servicing all round of the media, and the media must transform itself to meet the challenges of the new democracy.
Various structures are being set up within the GCIS and the process of changing forms of interaction and material is being carried out in consultation with the media as the central client in this respect. This includes Cabinet briefings, parliamentary briefings, monthly breakfast briefings, etc.
Better utilisation of Internet technology
The GCIS web site has been developed into a single entry point for government information, with all government departments being encouraged to develop their own web sites. The GCIS web site is to be launched early in 1999.
Bulk-buying of advertising and research was identified by Comtask as one area in which savings could be effected. It was recommended that the Government, through the GCIS, should immediately issue a tender for the handling of placements of all campaign advertising and negotiate the rates, commissions, etc. This will be a renewable contract, spanning all forms of media, and should include monitoring and assessment of impact. The proposed period of the contract is two to three years. The GCIS will, as soon as possible, start with such bulk-buying.
The GCIS considered the achievement of a diversity of voices as a critical element of its vision. A directorate: media policy was being set up. Among its immediate tasks would be the drafting of regulations on media ownership, including distribution channels and printing. It will also deal with the establishment of a Media Development Agency that would help formulate policy on the distribution of resources to community media. In the meantime, discussions have been held with some representatives of commercial media houses as well as the National Community Media Forum.