South Africa

Letter to the editor: GCIS is a communication machinery that responds to the public’s information needs

By Daily Maverick Staff Reporter 30 October 2013

In an earlier article, Ranjeni Munusamy criticised the role of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) in today's SA government. The CGIS disagrees, again. In the interest of broader debate, we publish their letter, by PHUMLA WILLIAMS, acting GCIS CEO, in its entirety.

With reference to Daily Maverick’s ‘No spin is bad spin: GCIS treads water in disaster-prone state’ by Ranjeni Munusamy, this is indeed ‘how we see it’.

Munusamy’s appraisal of the role and place of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) is misleading and misguided.

No amount of conjecture, generalisation and speculation by the writer can alter a few basic facts, nor legitimise a few matters arising from the piece.

Government Communication and Information System’s core function is to communicate the Government’s Programme of Action rather than responding to or taunting those who are differently inclined.

Among the basics, the first point to make is that GCIS’s work is guided by its communication strategic plans that are approved and fully funded through the Parliamentary process. Secondly, it is indeed a communications system that is organised around the country and across all spheres of government to lead and drive communication by interacting with the public and producing information based on scientific audience segmentation.

This system also recognises the expertise, detailed knowledge and stakeholder universe of line-function departments or entities in their respective portfolios, and encourages the respective political and executive leaderships to act as primary communicators.

Thirdly, the system is fundamentally proactive, and champions a continuous range of campaigns, even as we monitor the headlines.

This means government’s focus is on the work it does and motivating the nation to work with government, in the spirit of working together, to make South Africa a better place. As an integral part of government, GCIS’s focus isn’t any different.

We are an integral part of a delivery-oriented (not disaster-prone) administration and our first priority – and preference – is to communicate in a range of places, spaces and formats that go well beyond the media environment.

GCIS views government communication as part of a dialogue. The system engages with individuals at all levels and lets them voice views and opinions. This goes far beyond the day-to-day media handling function.

 

Government therefore deploys a comprehensive range of communications channels including publications, public participation engagements, stakeholder engagements, etc. Accordingly, GCIS’s communications strategies adopt an integrated approach to all communication.

Contrary to the “diminishing role” with which Munusamy credits GCIS in government, GCIS’s record speaks of productive and supportive partnerships in communications across government and effective communication where people want and need us most.

GCIS research underscores South Africans’ preference for face-to-face communication by government, especially at the local level. To promote this direct interaction between communities and political principals, GCIS facilitated just under 1,400 events in communities, on community radio, at malls, taxi ranks and sports facilities, and other places between January and July this year.

During Imbizo Focus Week in June, a total of 65 Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Premiers and other principals joined various outreach events enabled by GCIS to spread the word against substance abuse and on other related matters raised by communities.

In the first half of this year, we issued 200 media statements on behalf of departments and hosted 62 media briefings. These statements and briefings found expression in many media platforms.

On the 20 Years of Freedom campaign, we worked closely with the Department of Arts and Culture to develop a strategy that would not only work for government, but would be compelling to all sectors of our society to get involved. LeadSA is one of those that have joined the ranks in championing 20 Years of Freedom. The word “usurping” used by the author is therefore completely wrong!

In the first seven months of this calendar year, from the advertising budget we managed, we have been able to direct nearly R18 million in advertising spend to community media, as part of improving the reach and buying power of government advertising, and supporting diversity in the media. Apart from the budget spent, we have been able to extend the reach of government message to community-based viewers, listeners and readers.

Also this year, GCIS was a close partner to a range of departments – including The Presidency – on communication milestones such as the State of the Nation Address, Freedom Month (including the National Orders), the launch of the Smart ID Card, the centenary of the 1913 Land Act, Youth Month and others.

As at August 2013, we produced more than 13 million copies of the monthly newspaper, Vuk’uzenzele, for readers in rural and peri-urban areas. Vuk’uzenzele is published in all official languages, including braille.

In addition, we produced the monthly Public Sector Manager magazine which is an information and motivational platform highlighting key developments within the Public Service and featuring inspiring public servants who are making a special contribution to the country.

In the radio space, we produced 190 radio news bulletins that were aired live twice a day on community radio stations around the country, while the official news agency of government, SAnews.gov.za, produced a range of stories daily that are consumed by members of the public and media in South Africa and abroad.

During this time, we also stepped up our social media presence on a range of platforms and grew our following and likes in a number of areas.

None of this could have proceeded or succeeded without close partnerships with various departments and entities.

“Safe options such as writing letters after articles are carried” – as Munusamy puts it – indeed accounted for a limited proportion of GCIS’s output.

Rather, this year around 70 opinion pieces penned proactively by the GCIS Acting CEO. This formed part of GCIS proactive communication programme outlined so far.

The reaction to media headlines is just part of the communication machinery. These are some of the things at high level we do by ourselves and in partnership with government departments.

GCIS is coordinating and supporting government departments, with a great deal of work done behind the scenes to enable communication.

Even so, we always welcome criticism, as part of our quest to reach more and more South Africans at all levels of society through an expanding range of platforms.

Far from sitting on our hands or biting our nails (when we’re not sitting on our hands) in anticipation of what disasters may befall us, GCIS is part of a bold, successful administration that has changed lives in South Africa since 2009, building on the record of delivery established back in 1994.

The hallmark of this administration has been the turnarounds and progress in health and education, alongside unprecedented investment in infrastructure development which has made our economy more competitive and conducive for domestic and international investment.

The story we are telling – and the way in which we are telling it – is infinitely more compelling and energising than it is depicted as a government communications structure in disarray and disaffection.

When the facts speak for themselves, we can go easy on the feelings.

This is how we see it. (And we really didn’t mind cutting into our demanding schedule to reach out to Daily Maverick as a “stakeholder” as well.)

Phumla Williams

GCIS Acting Chief Executive Officer DM

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