22 October 2012
Media freedom and access to information had to be secured alongside the responsibility of the government to conduct its work transparently, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told South Africa’s newspaper editors in Magaliesburg, North West province on Friday night.
“This understanding is critical if we are to establish and maintain a robust participatory democracy in which all of us work together to build a better society and economy,” Motlanthe said in his meeting with the leadership of the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef).
He said the government had a duty to all South Africans to cultivate a diversity of voices in public discourse.
Motlanthe added that in an open democracy like South Africa’s, different voices did not have to be “mutually agreeable, and don’t have to agree with government”.
“However there should be no voice that goes unheard and, as they say, where applicable, we should disagree without being disagreeable.”
Media Freedom Commemoration Day
The meeting, at Mount Grace Hotel in Magaliesburg, coincided with the South Africa’s Media Freedom Commemoration Day also known as “Black Wednesday”. It was on 19 October 1977 that the apartheid government launched a crackdown on the media in the country, shutting down newspapers and locking up editors and journalists that were seen as critical of apartheid.
Previous meetings between Motlanthe and Sanef had discussed the expectations the government and the media had of one another in the context of constitutional provisions on freedom of expression and the right of all South Africans to receive and impart information.
On Friday, Motlanthe said that, while the previous meetings had focused on relationship building, the government thought that future forums should discuss key policy issues and the overall direction in which the country was moving.
“We are confident that the continuity and stability the country has enjoyed in leadership and policy over the past 18 years of democratic government will not be derailed,” he said.
Improved govt, media relations
The Sanef delegation was led by the body’s chairperson, Avusa editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya, and his deputy, Mail and Guardian editor Nic Dawes.
Motlanthe was accompanied by Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom.
Also present at the meeting were the editors of major publications as well as South Africa’s press ombudsman, Joe Thloloe.
Dawes said Sanef was pleased with the improved relations between the government and the media since the previous meeting last year.
“We appreciate that this is almost a unique arrangement in the world, and we are enormously grateful of this opportunity to engage with government,” Dawes said.
He said Sanef took the issue of media freedom “very seriously” and that “we are very happy government agrees with us on this one”.