Cyril Ramaphosa salutes media for its role in telling the Covid-19 story

14 September 2020 - 12:16 By TimesLIVE
President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged the government's support for the media industry, saying it would continue to buy advertising. He called on broader society to do the same.
President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged the government's support for the media industry, saying it would continue to buy advertising. He called on broader society to do the same.
Image: 123RF/ scanrail

President Cyril Ramaphosa has lauded the role the media has played in telling the Covid-19 story, including exposing corruption related to the procurement of personal protection equipment.

He also pledged the government's support, saying that despite the gloomy economic climate the government would continue to extend advertising spend to publications and broadcasters, especially community media. He called on the broader society, private sector, philanthropic and donor organisations to do the same to ensure that SA's free and diverse media was able to survive and thrive.

Writing in his weekly newsletter on Monday, Ramaphosa said despite the unprecedented nature of the disease and the immense challenge of placing 58 million people under lockdown, SA had fared well.

“We have managed to contain the spread of the disease primarily because of the co-operation and vigilance of all citizens,” he said. “This is in no small part due to the sterling work of our media,” said the president.

He said in many countries around the world, the coronavirus pandemic had required the limitation of many civil liberties and put social cohesion to the test. But countries with strong institutions, vigilant judicial systems and a robust media had been able to prevent human rights being undermined and the authority of the state being abused.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to SA’s hardworking and tenacious journalists. They have kept our people informed by disseminating key health messages about social distancing and hygiene. They have done so under extremely trying conditions, often with limited resources.

“They have told the stories of the effects of lockdown on the lives of people and their businesses. They have been out in the villages, towns and cities, bringing stories of ordinary people and drawing national attention to problems being experienced in hospitals and clinics, prompting government action,” said Ramaphosa.

He wrote about how the media has also shone a light on excesses that perhaps would not have ordinarily come to light, saying the media has fulfilled its watchdog role by unearthing acts of corruption and maladministration, sparking a huge national debate and leading to a number of high-profile investigations.

“Through this reporting they have earned people’s trust,” he said. “A free press is not an end in itself. It is a means by which democracy is secured and upheld. During this pandemic, our media has played not just its traditional watchdog role, but exercised its civic duty in supporting the national effort to contain the coronavirus,” he said.

Turning to the financial difficulties faced by many newsrooms and which saw some media houses shut their doors, Ramaphosa said it was a great concern that, like all other sectors of the economy, the coronavirus crisis has hit media houses hard.

He noted that some publications lost as much as 60% of their income in the early days of the lockdown and that a number of companies have had to implement salary cuts, reduce staff numbers or reduce hours worked.

“Regrettably, some publications have even been forced to close, among them some of SA’s most established and well-known magazine titles. The job losses that have resulted from the lockdowns have worsened a crisis for media companies already facing challenges like loss of advertising revenues, falling circulation and market share being taken by mobile-first news and other technologies, he said.

Instead of lamenting their fate, however, the media industry is working hard to refine business models, to drive innovation and retain staff as much as possible, Ramaphosa noted.

“As a society we owe the media our full support. Whether it is electing to pay for content, supporting crowdfunded journalism, paying our SABC licence fees or simply buying a newspaper, we can all play our part to support this industry in crisis.

“As government, despite the gloomy economic climate we will continue to extend advertising spend to publications and broadcasters, especially community media,” said Ramaphosa.

He called on the private sector to continue supporting the industry through advertising and working withmemedia houses in the production of innovative content in line with globalmemedia trends.

Local philanthropic and donor organisations should also come on board and support public interest journalism ventures, as is the case in many democracies, he said.

Ramaphosa said the proliferation of fake news during the pandemic, primarily on socialmemedia platforms, had added to the urgency for more news that is accurate, fair and impartial

“During this time our people have relied on our establishedmemedia houses for information, again underscoring their importance as pillars of our democracy.

“As we begin the great task of rebuilding our economy in the aftermath of the pandemic, thememedia 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 diversememedia in our country is able to survive and thrive,” he said.