Magaliesburg: Media freedom and access to information had to be secured alongside the responsibility of government to conduct its work transparently, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told newspaper editors on Friday night.
“This understanding is critical if we are to establish and maintain a robust participatory democracy in which all of us work together to build a better society and economy,” Motlanthe said in his meeting with the leadership of the SA National Editors Forum.
He said government had a duty to all South Africans to “cultivate” a diversity of voices in public discourse.
Motlanthe said in an open democracy like South Africa’s, different voices did not have to be “mutually agreeable and don’t have to agree with government”.
“However there should be no voice that goes unheard and as they say, where applicable, we should disagree without being disagreeable.”
The meeting, at Mount Grace Hotel in Magaliesburg, coincided with the Media Freedom Commemoration Day also known as ‘Black Wednesday’. It was on 19 October 1977 when apartheid government launched a crackdown on media in the country. On that day the government shut down newspapers and locked up editors and journalists.
It was not the first time that Motlanthe had met with the media body. Previous engagements had focused on the need for government and editors to discuss the expectations they have of one another in the context the constitutional provisions on freedom of expression and the rights of all South Africans to receive and impart information.
On Friday, Motlanthe said while the previous engagements focused on relationship building, government was of the view that future forums should be dedicated to discussions on key policy issues and the overall direction in which the country was moving.
“We are confident that the continuity and stability the country has enjoyed in leadership and policy over the past 18 years of democratic government will not be derailed,” he said.
The leadership of SANEF was led by the body’s Chairperson Mondli Makhanya and his deputy and Mail and Guardian Editor Nic Dawes.
Motlanthe was accompanied by Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom.
Also present at the meeting were editors of major publications as well as South Africa’s press ombudsman Joe Thloloe.
Dawes said SANEF was pleased with the improved relations between government and the media since the last meeting last year.
“We appreciate that this is almost a unique arrangement in the world and we are enormously grateful of this opportunity to engage with government,” Dawes said.
He said SANEF took the issue of media freedom “very serious” and that “we are very happy government agrees with us on this one”.