Of swart gevaar and information empowerment

2014-07-21 13:45

Last week, as we presented the last budget vote of the government and communications system, we experienced a renewed sense of what can only be termed “swart gevaar” from the opposition.

While the opposition DA agrees it is the duty of government to tell a good story – it hastened to add that such a duty is not one of government.

Hence its suspicion over the formation of this new ministry aimed at information empowerment for our people.

The Government Communication and Information System has over the years taken a deliberate decision to spend money on new and community media.

The DA lambasted this, claiming it would reduce the independence of these community media organisations.

So our intention to support community media organisations – a reason for the existence of the Media Development and Diversity Agency – is, according to the DA, nothing but a ploy to brainwash these community stations.

The SABC saga has exposed further hypocrisy. I am called upon to overrule the board on the appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as the broadcaster’s chief operating officer. Where is the call for the independence of the SABC in this call for interference?

It is important to put a few things into perspective as we prepare to live with the reality of such a ministry.

Communicating with citizens is a constitutional obligation. The fact that it may not have been at its optimum in the last 20 years is something that needs to be changed, not perpetuated.

Parliament – a forum open to the public – insists that all departments must produce annual reports indicating how they have spent taxpayers’ money.

Producing these reports for the 400-odd MPs cannot be considered to be the same as communicating with the 50?million South Africans they represent.

Communities involved in the service-delivery protests that we have seen have cited the lack of information from government as a reason for their frustrations, for example.

Of course there are deeper reasons for protest. But information exchange between councillors and communities would clarify matters of expectation as to when certain services will be delivered.

The DA argues that spending advertising revenue on community media would cause these stations to lose their independence.

Strange that the commercial media, some of whose revenue is heavily dependent on public funds, are never considered to lack independence as a result of this.

This view smacks of hypocrisy that seeks to maintain the status quo. We are determined to radically transform the South African media landscape.

Muthambi is minister of communications

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