Johannesburg - Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has urged the South African media to continue being critical of government, but also called for fair and balanced coverage of positive developments in the country and the continent.
Addressing the Nat Nakasa Awards Dinner hosted by the SA National Editors’ Forum in Cape Town, Ramaphosa acknowledged the role the media played in society, emphasising the need to “tell the story of our people”.
The Nat Nakasa Award is in honour of legendary scribe Nat Nakasa, who died in New York 50 years ago after an “emotional breakdown” while working on a biography of another legend Miriam Makeba.
According to Ramaphosa, it was necessary for the media to even annoy public representatives.
“Delight us, amuse us, educate us, challenge us! And occasionally, just occasionally, annoy us, for we do not pretend to be saints and to know it all,” Ramaphosa quipped.
“Confront us about service delivery failures. Condemn us when children die of contaminated water. Expose us when we abuse state resources.
“Remind us of our responsibility to lead in an inclusive manner in order to address the deficit of trust and confidence that permeate our society today,” said Ramaphosa.
But the deputy president went further, calling for more coverage of the government’s failures, no matter how “shameful” they might be.
“Be dismayed and report load shedding and drug stockouts. The story of girl-children dropping out of school because they are pregnant should be written in a manner that exposes deficiencies in our public policy. Incidents of municipal police taking bribes instead of prosecuting reckless drivers are our shameful story too, and should be told.
“In a word, continue to be critical, speak your minds to the extent that it balances the story of hope, progress and missed opportunities. Empower us to understand our world and our own deficiencies.”
However, Ramaphosa also called for more coverage of how the lives of many South Africans were changing for the better, including how the government had managed to deliver services for millions
“Write of the experience of the woman who has been freed from the burden of collecting firewood because she now has electricity, of the one who no longer has to walk to the river to draw water because she now has running water at home.
“Tell us how this has enabled them to go out to find work, and how their lives have improved,” he said.
Ramaphosa’s utterances are likely to add a new dimension to the ANC’s relationship with the media, which has at times been difficult.
The party has repeatedly expressed unhappiness at the media’s coverage of the ANC and its government, and the introduction of laws like the so-called Secrecy Bill have not improved the relationship.
The Nat Nakasa Award was awarded to former Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois. Others honoured on the night were veteran poet, writer and publisher James Mathews and former Daily Dispatch editor and Rhodes University journalism department head Gavin Stewart. Stewart, who passed away recently, was honoured with the Steven Wrottesly Award.