Not so negative after all

2011-09-10 11:20

The media in South Africa – print media in particular – has been labelled ­everything from “right-wing” to “counter-revolutionary” and “vindictive” and having “cartel-like tendencies” by ANC politicians and members of government.

To boot, Parliament’s ongoing debate surrounding the Protection of Information Act is as much about protection of state secrets as it is about additional mechanisms to curb undesirable coverage.

Within government ranks there is an obsession with “positive” and “negative” media reports. ­

Entrenched in political ideology that media coverage has purely ­educational purposes, supporting a developmental agenda and the notion that anything that has commercial imperatives is automatically bad, the relations between the South African government and the media are becoming increasingly strained despite assurances of ­respect from both sides.

Yet does our media only criticise and never praise?

The South African Constitution is one of the most liberal and equal in the world. When comparing governmental media coverage in countries with similar constitutions such as Germany, France, ­Italy, Spain, Britain and the US it is clear that South African media gives considerably more praise to its government, certainly less criticism than the French and German cases and a similar ratio of good and bad from Britain and the US.

On the opposite end, consider governmental criticism in media coverage in China is non­existent, with coverage being ­either factually neutral or positive. Where, then, does the problem lie?

For our media, internal editorial systems fail consistently, perhaps due to a lack of training or management. This is upsetting, and not just for government.

Media’s self-regulatory system requires an overhaul – a process that is under way, albeit much slower than it should be.

At the same time media must stop portraying itself as the victim.

For government the slow pace of its own service delivery is frustrating enough, but even more so are the constant reminders by the media.

Should Chinese media coverage in its omission of criticism be the perceived ideal, then government is on a slippery path that will ultimately lead to a clash between ­ideology and the Constitution.

The daunting consequence? One of them might have to give.

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