Public Protector calls for protection of the freedom and independence of media
Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela on Friday reminded delegates attending the Association for Independent Publisher Conference that the South African media has struggled to find its place for many years. She noted that the conference was taking place a day after 36th anniversary of Steve Biko’s death as the world came to know the real story behind Biko’s death through the pen of a courageous journalist Donald Woods who was also Biko’s close friend.
The Public Protector was speaking at the National Conference of the Association of Independent Publishers held in Boksburg, Gauteng. Her address focused on “The Role of Independent Print Media in the South African Media Context”. She said many people have become aware of her office and how it can help them restore their dignity through the media.
“I often draw parallels between the role of my office and that of the press. Though we function differently, we both operate as watchdogs that give people a voice. As a watchdog, the media plays an oversight role over the state, corporations and civil society. It watches closely over those that exercise power and control over state resources and actors in civil society including corporations”, she said.
She also advised that even though the media often gets it wrong, the fairest thing to do in those circumstances is to approach the relevant outlet in the media to ensure what was done wrong is corrected.
The Public Protector informed delegates that the community media sectors unlike its mainstream counterpart lacks resources. She said the sector struggles to attract advertising and has challenges of funding, office space, transport, printing costs, equipment and skilled labour even though it is more accessible to disadvantaged communities.
She said even though the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) has made strides in fulfilling its role to develop and bring diversity in the media sector, the community media outlets still face traditional challenges. Some have benefited from the MDDA interventions but still died a slow death. Indications are that perhaps there wasn’t adequate monitoring and evaluation effort because some of the beneficiaries had little or no experience in managing the size of the budget the agency had availed to them in the form of grants.
“The media enjoys constitutional protection, but as a country we need to ensure more development and diversity of this sector, particularly at grass roots level. Only then can we have an effective media that serves the interest of all of our society at all levels”, she said.
She concluded by saying it is difficult to imagine a world without the media, mainstream and grass roots. She said, “What a sad day it would be to have the corrupt looting public resources unnoticed, humanity unsuspectingly getting ravaged by diseases and not knowing what is happening on the other side of their town. What a sad day it would be if we were to do nothing because we are in South Africa when people are dying in Syria, Sudan and elsewhere in the world because we did not know because there was no media to let us know. Like the late Justice Langa, I would mourn the day the media went silent. Let us protect our media because when our media is safe, so is our hard won democracy.”
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