The last time government met with SANEF was in 2001 when relations between the two were at an all time low.
Tensions re-emerged in recent months following proposals by the African National Congress to establish a media tribunal in addition to the media’s self regulation system. Some in the media expressed concerns over the proposal citing threats to freedom of the press.
But government spokesperson Themba Maseko, speaking after the weekend’s meeting, said the parties had agreed on the need for a “vibrant diverse and critical” media sector to safeguard the country’s constitutional democracy.
“SANEF expressed concerns about the developments it views as threatening media freedom in the country…government raised its concerns that it was at times vilified and treated unfairly by the media,” Maseko said.
Government also raised issues around the diversity of media ownership, the quality and integrity of reporting, as well as the need for dissemination of information in a way that would help the country move forward.
Ministers also felt that the media’s self regulatory mechanism failed to address critical issues such as punishing reckless and inaccurate reporting. SANEF is currently reviewing the press Ombudsman system in an attempt to make it more effective.
It was agreed that similar meetings should to be held on an annual basis to deal with challenges facing the parties. All challenges should be addressed with the understanding that South Africa’s fledgling democracy was in its formative stages.
“The meeting agreed that the Constitution remains the central reference point and guiding principle of both the mandate of government and the role of the media and that the legitimacy of both institutions remains firmly entrenched,” Maseko said.
Government and media shared interdependency within the Constitutional framework and mutual acceptable norms would serve to strengthen the delivery of information to the public.
Motlanthe said the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) will be tasked with organising regular training sessions for communicators to give them the tools to deal with journalists better.
This was after SANEF chairperson Mondli Makhanya expressed concerns that government communicators often acted like “gatekeepers” instead of releasing information to the public. “To us this is really serious because we cannot allow a situation where people become gatekeepers whereas they are supposed to disseminate information,” Makhanya said.
Motlanthe said discussion over the media tribunal would continue until a “consensus” was reached by all the role players.
“We have undertaken to implement all that has been agreed on and we will continue to engage on some issues with the hope that we may be able to find each other,” he said. - BuaNews