Media - state relations: Quo vadis?
- Onkgopotse JJ Tabane
- 13 Jun 2011 08:10 (South Africa)
Many newsrooms no longer hire specialists who understand the subject matter as a special focus. The result of this, given that they often have to deal with specialist professionals on the other hand, can become difficult. Obviously this is not always the end of the story. A relatively unspecialised journalist can read the annual report and other policy documents of the department so they acquaint themselves about matters already in the public domain. In this way, journalists are in a better position to report on the relevant department and able to pass an informed judgement about whether the department's performance is successful or not.
What is becoming rife is short-cut journalism that relies on soundbites and not thorough research. The fact that journalists are often given a few minutes to report a story should not be an excuse. At the SABC, for instance, I have been impressed by the work of some reporters who, in a few short minutes, managed to unpack the details of international multilateral meetings such as the World Economic Forum and the United Nations, put it in context and report on the issue at hand briefly, relevantly as well as comprehensibly. So it is not impossible. Some journalists, in features or “think pieces”, are even able to disentangle for the reader what has become a political maze.
However, while possible, the reality is this is not happening as much as we would want.
Training budgets of newsrooms have been slashed over the years. The recruitment of senior people has slumped. I suppose the salaries are also taking a knock with circulation of papers in particular being debased by social media and online newspapers to an extent.
This is before we talk about the inadequate self-regulation mechanism that exist. Thankfully these are under review and the majority of the leadership of the media agree they are inadequate and are fuelling the need for stronger measures, as proposed by the ANC at some point. So the point is, while the noise about alleged media “inaccuracy” is not always fuelled by honest intentions, there is a need for media introspection in how it addresses issues of transformation, training of its personnel to have the ability to grasp and translate complex subject matters and finally address issues of redress. I dismiss outright any notions of newsroom conspiracies against any political party. Anyone making such claims only needs to spend a day in a newsroom and observe how even one edition is produced. They will see how it is impossible to concoct a common negative agenda against anyone for that matter. The aggregate assessment of a hostile press also needs to be examined closely.
On the other hand, the ability of government to package its own information so that it is consumable by the media to cover both news and perspective leaves much to be desired. One is pleased somewhat that Cabinet has approved a communications strategy of some kind. And I suppose as it rolls out we will see how effective a strategy of improvement it is. What the media experiences at this point is stonewalling when information is needed. Poor outreach to the press by both political principals and their media relations practitioners and a misunderstanding of the role of spokespersons in relation to the press have done their own damage in the media/state relations space.
An attitude that has declared the media as a whole an enemy of the state is unscientific. There are actually many journalists who are sympathetic to the ANC, but are as frustrated as the ones who are opposed to it due to unwritten media blackouts or baseless fear of the press, where an extended hand would serve a better purpose.
Blanket approaches like believing that a press conference is the best or only way to communicate and also believing that everything that a minister says is necessarily newsworthy, bring up the issue of poor media understanding. Knowing that there is a deficit of scientific knowledge in the crop of journalists who cover your story should point you to one solution: Package your information simply and make your “scientists” directly available to the press. As with every other sector communicating with the media, government’s job is to liaise and coordinate - not to become a gatekeeper.
Very few communicators cover themselves in glory when it comes to merely building relationships with journalists, no matter what they may believe their ideological orientation to be. As a result, very few of the 60-strong Cabinet feature widely in the many publications that hit the streets every day. Opinion pages are dominated by analysts and repetition of the same and limited voices, as many in government shy away from navigating themselves into the feature pages of these publications. Unmediated communication, as the one proposed through a monthly tabloid by government must be welcome, but can only solve one aspect of the story - news. Government must revamp and up its media relations game considerably to achieve an integrated strategy to reach citizens who have developed trust for the newspapers and then be able to win the fight for perspective. It is a fatal mistake to believe that citizens can only be interested in unmediated propaganda.
Clearly there are bridges that must be built as both sides need each other to survive. But with what has happened in the last while, one has to ask where are relation between the media and the state headed? DM
- Dear Comrade Chris Hani... Let’s talk frankly about the last 21 years
- Dear free-spirited Trevor Manuel… Let’s talk frankly
- Dear President Museveni… Let’s talk frankly
- Dear Voter, let’s talk frankly about…the EFF’s magic wand
- Dear Con-mander Julius Malema... let's talk frankly
- Dear Dr Mamphela Ramphele… Let’s talk frankly
- Dear North West Premier Thandi Modise, let's talk frankly
- Dear Advocate Thuli Madonsela, let's talk frankly: do take heart
- Dear Lindiwe Mazibuko, let’s talk frankly
- Dear Mmusi Maimane, let’s talk frankly about what we really must believe
- Mfundi Vundla, let’s talk frankly about the threat to write out the ‘Generations’ cast entirely.
- Dear Minister Gigaba, let’s talk frankly about ten ways you can save money
- Dear South Africans, let’s talk frankly: 20 reasons to celebrate twenty years of our democracy – Part Two
- Dear South Africans, let's talk frankly: Twenty reasons to celebrate twenty years of our democracy – Part One
- Dear Comrade Nxasana, let’s talk frankly…
- Dear Minister Nathi Mthethwa, let’s talk frankly
- Khanyi Dhlomo: Illuminating Luminance
- Dear Minister Radebe, let’s talk frankly...
- Dear Gauteng Radio Listeners, let’s talk frankly...
- An ode to Vuyo: He ran a good race; his morning will remain alive
- Dear spindoctors, dear journalists, let’s talk frankly...
- Dear Premier Helen Zille, let’s talk frankly...
- Dear Zwelinzima Vavi, let’s talk frankly...
- Are too many cooks spoiling the broth?
- Dear Minister Gigaba, let’s talk frankly...
- Dear Minister Gordhan, let’s talk frankly...
- State of the nation: The good, the bad and the ugly
- Business must learn how to play ball in the current political environment
- Dear Minister Martins, let's talk frankly...
- Dear Minister Pule.. Let's talk frankly
- Dear Minister... let's talk frankly
- Dear Minister... let's talk frankly
- Ben Turok - a lifetime of putting his head above the parapet
- 13 conversations about one thing: the hypocrisy of Cosatu
- Young professionals must take centre stage to help shape the future of South Africa
- Labour broker issue and other signals of the collapsing alliance
- Tough love is a farce, rather engage ANCYL
- Government communications' own Operation Vula
- Media - state relations: Quo vadis?