Presidency defends Zuma “happy news”

The Presidency says it welcomes the debate that has ensued following remarks by President Jacob Zuma on the political economy of the media and the role of the media in nation building and balanced reporting.

The president was speaking to second year journalism students from Tshwane University of Technology earlier this week.

An article in the Mail & Guardian, cited Zuma as saying: “…When I am in South Africa, every morning you feel like you must leave this country because the reporting concentrates on the opposite of the positive.”

Zuma said that the media did not tell the story of how government had moved the country away from an apartheid system, and turned it into a vibrant democracy.

The Presidency said that Zuma told the students to be “open-minded about the role of the media and the pressure it was under”, most notably when it came to balancing the role of media products as business enterprises that need to make a profit and the public’s right to know.

“The President’s view is that the profit motive influences content as media products need to sell in order to make money and warned journalists of the future to be mindful of this imperative against their role of informing the South African public in a balanced and truthful manner,” the Presidency said in a statement issued on Thursday (12 September).

“He also emphasised the role of media owners and their responsibility to ensure that their products reflected a balanced view of the country and not only negative news,” it said.

The government office pointed out as an example that the South African media chose to highlight that South Africa ranked 53rd in the World Economic Forum competitiveness index, out last week.

However, the Presidency said that it failed to focus on the fact that South Africa took first place on the regulation of securities exchanges and second place on the availability of financial services.

Further, the country ranked second out of the 148 nations for the availability of financing through local equity markets, “and there were no prominent recognition of these accomplishments from the media coverage”.

Sub- Saharan Africa 2013-2014 Infographic
WEF competitiveness index for Sub- Saharan Africa 2013-2014 (click to enlarge)

What the presidency didn’t say was that South Africa lost the top spot as most competitive sub-Saharan country, as wasteful government spending, poor education and tense labour relations drag on the country’s economy.

The WEF report mentioned by the Presidency noted that South Africa’s financial market development remains impressive, at 3rd place over all – though the South African government was playing a large role in dragging down the country’s ability to compete globally, as well as the low level of education and tense labour relations.

“Low scores for the diversion of public funds (99th), the perceived wastefulness of government spending (79th), and a more general lack of public trust in politicians (98th) remain worrisome, and security continues to be a major area of concern for doing business (at 109th),” the WEF said.

Media must not impact on SA’s story

According to the Mail and Guardian, Zuma referred the group of journalism students at the university to a case of “patriotic reporting” in Mexico where the media did not report on crime because it was patriotic and wanted to market the country.

The Presidency said in its statement: “It is the expectation of the Presidency that these matters are discussed in newsrooms daily to ensure that the business side of the media does not negatively impact on the telling of the South African story, especially as we head towards 20 years of freedom.”

It said that Zuma expressed his appreciation of the contribution of “some media houses to nation building” citing the likes of the LeadSA project of Primedia and Independent Newspapers, the Touching Lives project of the SABC and ENCA/Etv’s Heroes and Against All Odds programmes.

Lindiwe Mazibuko
Lindiwe Mazibuko

DA responds

Lindiwe Mazibuko, DA Parliamentary Leader said that she would write to President Zuma to request that he retract his “problematic” remarks without delay.

“They have no place in a country where media freedom is enshrined as one of the cornerstones of our democracy,” the DA lead said.

The DA said that Zuma’s remarks also point to a deeper problem within the ANC.

“There has been a growing trend under the Zuma administration to label anyone who tries to hold the government to account as ‘unpatriotic’,” Mazibuko said.

“The role of an independent media is critical in a constitutional democracy,” the DA said.

President Zuma should be less concerned about an “unpatriotic” media and more concerned with the quality of his own delivery in office. “Good news” will only ever come from good governance,” Mazibuko said.

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Presidency defends Zuma “happy news”