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SPI – Helping Break Down Barriers Between Government and Media

Date Released: Mon, 19 November 2012 16:18 +0200

By Litha Mpondwana

There is a mixed relationship between South Africa's government and media, which may be caused by the government media officers ’ lack of  understanding of the industry – and course co-ordinator Themba Sepotokele, director of stakeholder relations in the Department of Local Government and Housing in Gauteng, designed the course to address this issue. When asked about what he planned for participants of the course he said, “We wanted to take them through government communication, but also to enable them to have an understanding and appreciation of the journalism industry”. This process saw the course participants exploring newsrooms and conducting exercises which aimed to make them understand editorial independence and media ethics. Sepotokele said that this was an important strategy to enable the media officers to be better equipped to improve relations between government and the media. Sepotokele added that media officers are not politicians, and their job is to eliminate barriers of communications between government and the media. In essence, media officers and journalists perform the similar task of dispersing information to the public.

A close working relationship between media officers and journalists could improve their respective tasks. This is the thought of Andile Duka, senior communications officer in Government Communication and Information Systems. He feels that there is room for improvement in relations between government and media, especially national media. “We enjoy a good working relationship with community media, but less so with national media, ” said Duka. The SPI's Government Media Course has widened Duka's perspectives on ways in which government media officers could improve relations between government and the media. He believes an important aspect is understanding the perspective of the media when it comes to policy making. “The government was ignoring the importance of having a media policy that has a media interest,” he said. He adds that learning about media ethics has given him an idea of what ethics are needed in journalism and the context the media comes from when in conflicting situations with government. But the conversation around these issues does not end at the course. Sepotokele hopes that there will be continuous networking between the course participants, so they can continue to debate the role government media officers can play to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between the government and media.