SUNDAY TIMES - New government policy to mute spin doctors on social media
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Sunday Times News By BABALO NDENZE, 2017-03-19 00:00:00.0

New government policy to mute spin doctors on social media

Government is drafting a new policy to avoid errant outbursts by spin doctors on social media.
Image: ERIC THAYER REUTERS

Government is drafting a new policy to muzzle errant spin doctors who suffer from foot-in-mouth disease on social media.

The policy would also compel spokespeople to not ignore calls from journalists, and to respond to questions within a certain period.

Norman Munzhelele, acting director-general of the Department of Communications, told the Sunday Times that the policy would touch on "how government spokespersons must conduct themselves".

He said: "In government, sometimes you find spokespersons when they tweet ... they talk about their own departments [in a bad light] and that doesn't augur well."

The policy comes at a time that government spin doctors have been in the media for all the wrong reasons. Lumka Oliphant, spokeswoman for Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini, recently had a meltdown on Facebook where she used profanity and insulted journalists and people who suggested her boss drank alcohol.

The DA called on Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula to fire his media and communications manager, Esethu Hasane, for a racist statement posted on Twitter and Facebook where he called on God to "choose another way of punishing white people". His comments led to a social media storm, with some users coming to his defence and others calling for his dismissal.

Tasneem Carrim, communications deputy director-general responsible for content processing and dissemination, said: "We are at a point where - since the minister was appointed - we raised the issue directly again about the idea of a communications policy. We haven't yet reached a point where we can say we have a consistent level of service from government communicators."

The policy would also cover the qualifications spokespeople should have. "Some people walk into departments or municipalities with a diploma, some people walk in with a degree, some people walk in with a master's, some people walk in with a secretarial course, some people walk in with biblical studies as their qualification for becoming communicators," said Carrim.

Senior department officials this week briefed parliament's communications oversight committee about the policy. ANC MP Lerumo Kalako said government communicators would need to be employed under a "uniform requirement".