Minister Muthambi was speaking during a roundtable discussion with representatives of Mpumalanga community media as part of an Imbizo Outreach programme in Nelspruit, on Friday.
According to Minister Muthambi, community media is under-utilised in the country. “You are under-utilised. If we were utilising you to our maximum, South Africa would be a different country today.
“There are a lot of things that has happened over the past 20 years, but if you read what the media is reporting, it is only the negative stories. You don’t hear and read stories on the achievements of the past 20 years in the mainstream media.
“If every week, as government, we can flood community newspapers with opinion pieces on what each government department is doing to improve the lives of our people, we would win our struggle of empowering our residents with this communication revolution agenda.
“On a daily basis, the mayors and MECs are doing something on the ground, but their work is not communicated in the media,” she said.
Minister Muthambi said government communicators need to start communicating the good work which government is doing in communities.
“People like to read stories that are appealing and there are a lot of things that this government is doing in communities that needs to be communicated in the media by our communicators.
“We are saying, government communicators should start to consider taking reporters from community media serious by answering their phones and responding to the questions on time as failure to do this has resulted with one sided stories portraying government negatively.
“To government communicators, I’m saying let’s improve the way we communicate, let’s have a good working relationship with the entire media industry, community media included,” she said.
Minister Muthambi said provincial communicators and those in local municipalities should refrain from placing advertisements which are more relevant to community media, in mainstream media.
“Some local mayors, opt to go the public broadcaster to popularise their developmental programme, whereas there is a relevant media platform at their locality that they can utilise.
“If the municipality needs people to work in a local project, what is the relevance of placing their job advertisement in a national paper? We need to realise the importance of community media when it comes to helping us to improve and change the lives of our people at the local sphere of government.
“We are serious about working with community media. The people of Mpumalanga want to hear their own stories; they want to see themselves on TV.
“We are going to marshal all the resources to make that we support the community media so that our people are informed,” she said.
Amos Nkosi of Rise FM said: “It is very hard to get information from certain government communicators both at the local and provincial level, but there are also those who are working very well with us.
“The unavailability of the Head of Communications at the Premier’s Office is also making our work difficult, but I fully support government’s idea of media buying.”
Mawethu Ngwenya from Barberton community radio said: “We are financially struggling because most of the mining companies in the area have closed. We are not getting any support from the Umjindi municipality except for the support in the form of the building that we are using which is very old”.
Tom Nkosi of the provincial investigative paper, Ziwaphi, said when they expose corruption in local municipalities; their papers are banned from getting advertisements from the municipalities. However, he said the mainstream papers that always carry negative stories about government always get advertisements from local municipalities and the provincial departments.
Nkosi also told Minister Muthambi that cheque book journalism was rife in the province as most journalists in the province put their bylines on stories written by politicians and in return they are promised material things.
In responding to the issues raised, Minister Muthambi said: “I am happy that we have had this engagement and it was fruitful on my part. I have learnt a lot and this will contribute to our planning moving forward, to say these are the things that we must consider as government. We are looking forward to this fruitful working relationship with you in order to change the communication environment in this country.”