President Cyril Ramaphosa has praised media freedom and journalistic integrity while reflecting on the coronavirus-induced National State of Disaster which was implemented six months ago.
On Monday morning, as part of the president’s customary weekly letter to the South African public, Ramaphosa detailed the societal importance of free press, noting that journalists played a pivotal role in holding government to account.
President Ramaphosa’s praise comes just days after a long-awaited question and answer session with the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef).
With the global pandemic forcing countries into varying stages of lockdown, the impact of stringent regulations on South Africa’s already-embattled economy has devastated livelihoods by way of job losses, liquidations and reduced earning potential. This is especially true for the media sector, which has seen the culling of print titles and mass retrenchments due, in part, to dwindling advertising revenue.
During a virtual meeting with President Ramaphosa on Wednesday 9 September, Sanef noted, with grave concern, the perilous predicament faced by journalists, publications and media houses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramaphosa has recognised that dwindling newsroom resources present an immediate threat to South Africa’s media freedom, explaining:
“We need more journalists, not less. That is why the loss of even a single journalist is not just a loss to the industry but to the country.”
Cyril Ramaphosa: We owe a debt of gratitude to journalists
Ramaphosa reflected on the tireless dedication of journalists throughout the lockdown, noting coverage of medical and socioeconomic issues as a guiding light for information-hungry South Africans, saying:
“We owe a debt of gratitude to South Africa’s hardworking and tenacious journalists.
They have kept our people informed by disseminating key health messages about social distancing and hygiene.
They have told the stories of the effects of lockdown on the lives of people and their businesses.
They have fulfilled their watchdog role by unearthing acts of corruption and maladministration, sparking a massive national debate and leading to a number of high-profile investigations. Through this reporting they have earned people’s trust.”
President Ramaphosa further urged South Africans to support journalists and publications as a means of strengthening the country’s democracy.
Keeping South Africa’s journalists and publications afloat
As South Africa attempts to recoup losses incurred during six months of economic dormancy and disruption, Ramaphosa has seconded the call for innovation within the publishing sector through collaboration between media veterans and young, tech-savvy journalists. The president added that both private and philanthropic sectors had a responsibility to explore new ways in which to sustain the country’s media industry. Ramaphosa said:
“As we begin the great task of rebuilding our economy in the aftermath of the pandemic, the media industry will need our support more than ever.
The free press was once described as ‘the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men and women prize’.
As we salute their role in this pandemic, let us do what we can to ensure that the free and diverse media in our country is able to survive and thrive.”
Ramaphosa added that government would do its part by extending advertising spend to publications, particularly those in the community media sector.
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