25 August 2016
Speech by the Minister of Communications, Honourable Faith Muthambi, at the Print Media Transformation Colloquium at Freedom Park, Tshwane
Members of the Media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Friends and colleagues,
It is indeed my honour and privilege to address this important gathering this morning. We have come to know that throughout history our beloved country has been blessed with fearless journalists and editors who took a stand against the government of the day.
The generation of Percy Qoboza, Nat Nakasa and many others used their words to tell a story about the struggle for democracy and freedom in South Africa. Their contribution to our democracy is immeasurable and their fight for democracy and a free and thriving media lives on in the country today.
We now live in a country where our Constitution guarantees and upholds our rights, including the right to freedom of expression that includes freedom of the press.
Never again will our nation witness the harassment of the free media such as what occurred on Wednesday, 19th October 1977, when the apartheid regime clamped down on the media, banning two newspapers, The World and the Weekend World and arresting the editor and other brave journalists who stood up to the regime.
The period was most painful in our history as the apartheid regime sought to use its iron fist to crush the will of the people. But, it was also at the time where brave men and women of the media stood up and confronted this tyranny head on.
In the past 22 years of our democracy many things have changed in our country. What has however remained constant since 1994 is our commitment to a free, independent and thriving media.
Since the end of apartheid, the media like the rest of society has had to undergo profound changes while striving to be relevant in a fast changing world brought about by globalisation and technological developments. I would argue that print media more than other types of media have felt this change most profoundly.
Predictions of the demise of print media are now routine. Media operate in an environment of declining readership spurred on by technological advances. At the same time new media and social media continue to expand the realm and the influence of media beyond traditional boundaries.
In this brave new world the question is how the media remain relevant in a world where everyone has a story to tell and now have the social media platforms to tell their story at the click of a button.
In this fast changing landscape the media have had to adapt and change to meet the needs of an information driven society. However, despite the many changes the basic foundation of the media remains to inform, educate and perform its vital watchdog role.
In South Africa the media is free to carry out its vital functions without fear or favour. Since 1994 the media have shone a light on issues that are vital to the public and to our democracy.
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press and other media is enshrined in our Constitution. The Constitution also protects the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas, freedom of artistic creativity and academic freedom.
I can assure you that these freedoms are important to government and that we will continue to nurture and protect them. Our commitment to freedom of expression and a free media remains steadfast.
As is our commitment to a free and flourishing media. I can further assure you that government will continue to engage with media and the industry in a spirit of partnership.
Today’s colloquium and discussions that are to follow will allow us to jointly deliberate and strategise on ways that will ensure that the media better reflects the views of all South Africans. The media must become a mirror of all in society and not just reflect the views of a few.
The colloquium provides us with an opportunity to broaden the current media offering and to ensure that all citizens have access to media. We need more inclusion, not less and together we can lay the platform for a future where the voice of all South Africans finds expression in our media.
These discussions will not be easy, however, I believe that there is room from the media and government to engage around a common vision for South Africa and the role that media plays within this. It goes without saying that we are all patriots who want to see our great nation flourish.
Within all of us lies the power to drive a new narrative around our great nation; one of unlimited potential and a renewed hope for a better future. There is room for media and government to work together towards a sustained developmental agenda.
We do not have to become a self-fulfilling prophecy in which media and government are forever on different sides of the fence.
This government expects the media to be fearless in their reporting and to continue facilitating public discourse. However, we hope that this fearlessness extends to also driving a narrative that inspires hope to our people. Our country has made remarkable progress in 22 years and our continued development is unstoppable.
I believe that there is room for deeper and more meaningful coverage of our exciting developmental journey. Such coverage would of course not be at the expense of your watchdog and checking function, but will rather live alongside it.
The media can also play a greater and more meaningful role in ensuring that citizens have greater access to information. If we allow an information deficit to arise we risk creating a new divide between those with access to resources and those who have none. The media also has a greater role to play in ensuring that people make informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. It is our joint responsibility as government and media to contribute to the development of this country.
Such an approach would not be at odds with your editorial independence. On the contrary it would serve to reinforce the positive role that media can play in society.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The word transformation is often a loaded one in South Africa. It means different things to different people and conjures up all sorts of connotations. At times it has been demonised or resisted; often without reason or just cause.
Transformation is about positive change. Everyone in this room knows how much our nation has changed and transformed since 1994. A snapshot of any newsroom today will certainly better reflect the realities and demographics of our nation than 22 years ago.
Undoubtedly there has been progress, though as with any journey there is always more to do. The emergence of new role players in the South African media space in recent years has been a welcome development and has increased plurality of voice.
Plurality matters because it contributes to a well-functioning democratic society that is characterised by informed citizens. It prevents any one media owner or owners having too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda. Most importantly it ensures that there is a diversity of viewpoints which encompasses a wide spectrum of society.
Where there is plurality and greater diversity media will more easily become conduits for continuous dialogue on a range of pressing issues; such as safety, health, education, employment and rural development.
Our nation is yearning for media to lead national conversations on that which divides us, and provide platforms for ordinary citizens to make their voices heard. The media can play a vital role in our joint vision of building a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.
The issue of print media transformation can no longer be put on hold. Today’s colloquium is a chance for all of us to move the discussion forward. This colloquium will focus not only on the mechanisms of transformation, but also on issues of content and diversity. We view the draft discussion document as a starting point for the important debate around transformation within the media environment.
It is an all-encompassing document that captures the various facets of media transformation. It opens by reflecting on where we were prior to 1994 and expands on the gains made by media since then.
It rightly explores the enabling laws which govern the media in South Africa. It explores media diversity and the existing media environment.
Importantly it looks at bodies and mechanisms which are presently in place to regulate the media, and explores possible alternatives.
The issue of concentration, ownership and control in the print and broadcast media is another crucial matter up for discussion as is media expansion in the digital space and the role of government owned media. It specifically addresses the vexing question of content diversity, and explores the fast growing community media sector, as well as looking at advertising.
I think we can all agree that there is a lot of work that lies ahead.
Please don’t view this interaction as just another talk shop. The discussions here today are vitally important and will help to further shape our media landscape. Together we can ensure that this forum becomes the platform where new solutions were shaped.
Allow me also to reiterate that an independent and free media is as important now as it was during the dark days of apartheid. Media are the prism through which we view our society, exposing the good, the bad, the challenges and shortcomings.
I am confident that everyone in this room is committed to media freedom and transformation. From our side, government will continue to support all initiatives that enhance media freedom and a greater plurality of voice.
In closing, I have no doubt that today’s interaction will be robust and solutions driven. I remain confident that government and the media are ultimately united in our desire to see a better reflection of the positive stories of this country and its people. Together we can build on the gains we have made and move South Africa forward.