Remarks by the Minister of Communications, the Honourable Faith Muthambi, to the 2nd Ethekwini Social Cohesion Conference

21 April 2016

Distinguished guests,
Fellow panellists,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is indeed an honour and privilege to have been invited to participate in the 2nd EThekwini Social Cohesion Conference.

The topic under discussion today: “SA Media: The cornerstone of nation building or a perpetrator of our racial past” is very close to my own heart.  I have no doubt that the discussions emanating from the panel today will be robust and forthright, and will help to take the country forward in our quest for greater social cohesion and nation building.

I am also thrilled that South Africans continue to recognise the importance of dialogue in driving change.  Fifteen years ago in this very province the 2001 World Conference against Racism (WACAR), under the auspices of the United Nations was held in Durban.

It is therefore fitting that this important convention is taking place in the province that set the ball rolling all those years ago.

Earlier this year I participated in the national convention on nation building, social cohesion and reconciliation. The convention brought together South Africans from all walks of life and was a good vehicle to begin crucial dialogue.

It reaffirmed our progress since 1994 but also revealed the major gaps that still remain. One of the key issues of consensus was the need to revisit the fundamentals of our shared nation-building obligations.

Amongst these is the need for greater and more inclusive social participation in South Africa’s social cohesion programme. 

Delegates at the convention also agreed to take a stand to reject sexism, xenophobia and racism.  There was consensus that we cannot allow a situation where the gains of the past 22 years are reversed.

I am therefore thrilled to be part of 2nd EThekwini Social Cohesion Conference. Events such as the 2nd EThekwini Social Cohesion Conference are crucial. Now more than ever South Africans need to have a serious conversation about our social cohesion, or lack thereof.

We dare not bury our collective heads in the sand in the hope that our challenges will fade away.  By talking and by engaging we get the ball rolling and begin to ask the hard questions we have ignored for far too long.

Fellow panellists,

I think we would all agree that the media continue to play a vital role in our democracy. A free media are vital partners in strengthening any democracy.

It is also indisputable that the media industry has grown in leaps and bounds since being unshackled from the yoke of apartheid in 1994.  Our constitutional commitment to freedom of expression has resulted in a robust and independent media. Even though we ourselves may fall victim to the fierce independence of the media, we will fight for this independence to remain strong.

Those with short memories are likely to have forgotten that it was the governing party, the ANC who championed the need for a free and independent media.

The words and truths spoken by former President Nelson Mandela at the International Press Institute Congress in February 1994 still ring true today.

He spoke of the need to remove laws, ordinances, regulations and administrative measures from South Africa’s statute books which denied South African citizens the right to know the truth, repressed freedom of the media and limited the rights of people to express themselves.

At this ground breaking congress he reaffirmed that freedom of expression and press freedom were among the core values of any democracy. 

President Mandela hammered home the need for a critical, independent and investigative press, and stated that the press must be free from state interference.

Allow me briefly to share some of his words with you. Speaking on the importance of the media, he said:

“It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens. It is only such a free press that can temper the appetite of any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen. It is only such a free press that can be the vigilant watchdog of the public interest against the temptation on the part of those who wield it to abuse that power. It is only such a free press that can have the capacity to relentlessly expose excesses and corruption on the part of government, state officials and other institutions that hold power in society.”

I will now pause briefly to allow us all to digest the magnitude of his words. 

It remains indisputable that the media and freedom of expression is protected by the Constitution.  The media also continues to hold government to account in the public interest. 

It is also fitting that the protections that former President Mandela envisioned in his historic speech are now part of our Constitution.

In the Bill of Rights under the section dealing with Freedom of Expression our Constitution boldly declares.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes:

freedom of the press and other media; and

freedom to receive or impart information or ideas”.

Colleagues,

The wish of former President Nelson Mandela is part and parcel of our democracy.  We are indeed fortunate to live in a country where free speech and a free and independent media are allowed to thrive. 

However, I would argue that there is greater room for the media to use its influence to shape our developmental agenda.

Our nation is grappling with immense challenges due to our tragic past, and we need every facet of society, especially the media to help to move South Africa forward.

In a democracy such as ours, media’s vital role as the Fourth Estate will never be in question. Nonetheless the watchdog role in a developing state is more than just a ‘checking function’.

The role of media is to also ensure access to information which is essential to the health of our democracy and the development of our country.

It must ensure that citizens make responsible and informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. 

The stories it generates must contribute to our development by allowing South Africans to make better decisions or take advantage of opportunities.

Friends,

Another issue that must be discussed is the ownership patterns of our media and whether these make room for a more diverse ownership pattern, reflecting the transformed nature of our society. 

However, the similar stance taken by the big media houses on several pressing national issues points to a more nuanced reality. 

I would therefore argue strongly that our nation is crying out for a plurality of differing views and opinions.  Given that our media industry is largely dominated by a few large players the vehicle for such plurality may lie in community media and radio.

Community media and radio can be a conduit for continuous dialogue on a range of pressing issues such as safety, health, education, employment and rural development.

Community media and radio can lead national conversations on that which divides us, and provide platforms for ordinary citizens to make their voices heard.

Community media and radio can play a vital role in our joint vision of building a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.

As I stated earlier we continue to have a situation where big media houses dominate the playing field in South Africa. Such a state of affairs 22 years into democracy is not ideal or desirable.

My department has therefore kick-started a conversation around media transformation that will ultimately culminate into a discussion document on media transformation.

In keeping with our democratic principles we are consulting widely with media owners, industry associations and other stakeholders. I trust that the finalised document will assist us in ensuring more diversity in our content, newsrooms and ownership patterns.

Programme director,

It would be remiss if I did not touch on the role of the public broadcaster in the media landscape. Since 1994 government has always sought to use the power of communication to serve the community by informing, educating and providing open access to information.

I strongly believe the SABC remains one of the major pillars in this endeavour.  The SABC has a mandate to ensure that all South Africans are informed about government activities.

The SABC has a strong radio and television presence in South Africa and has become the voice for millions.  It also has begun to develop digital platforms to meet the changing needs of how audiences consume media today.

As the SABC continues to evolve it must strive even harder to be a credible and diverse national media broadcaster.

I believe public service media must at all times be transparent and must work towards the common good.

Therefore content the SABC generates must do more than just entertain. It must inform and educate the public and adhere to the highest standards of moral integrity.

Fellow Panellists

Last Saturday at the launch of the ANC 2016 manifesto in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro in the Eastern Cape, the President Jacob Zuma   said:   “South Africa’s blueprint for development, the National Development Plan (NDP), urges all South Africans to unite behind a country’s programme to tackle unemployment, poverty, inequality and other challenges facing our country.  The president further said   that the ruling party has undertaken to deepen the promotion of access to information and improved services through openness throughout local government, and through public participation and the use of technology.

Now as the Minister of Communications echoing president statement, as we embark on the journey to deepen the promotion of access to information,   community media and mainstream media has responsibility to contribute towards building this nation.  We expect the  media  to play more  visible   role  in  promoting  social cohesion , and  promote  different  cultures of  our country.  
 
Friends,

Another issue close to my heart is the portrayal of women in the media.  I think we would all agree that there is room for substantial improvement in this regard.

In South Africa gender equality is entrenched in our constitution and we have introduced legislation, a number of policies and instruments to advance women in our society.
Our Gender Equality Bill accelerates empowerment of women while our Employment Equity Act legally requires employers to work towards more equitable representation based on gender, race and disability. In parliament, we have achieved women representation of 44 cent which ranks South Africa as one of the countries with the highest number of women parliamentarians in the world
However, despite this progress we still have a long way to go.  Worldwide, women continue to struggle in what is still a largely male dominated world.  Stereotypes about the role of women and girls persist, and women and girls continue to suffer daily physical and emotional abuse. 

We must therefore do more to ensure women break through the proverbial glass ceiling and begin to assume leadership roles in all spheres in life.

Media have a vital role to play in this and can in fact drive the change we want to see. 

Fellow panellists,

I hope my few words have given us all food for thought and will help to stimulate our discussion today. 

I look forward to engaging on the fascinating topic at hand and trust that our contributions will help to move the discussion on social cohesion and nation building forward.

I thank you.

Issued by Government Communications (GCIS) on behalf of the Ministry of Communications

Speeches: 
Year: 
2016
Speech date:: 
Thursday, April 21, 2016