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Rhodes professor calls for open dialogue between media and government

Date Released: Wed, 11 July 2012 10:59 +0200

Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies professor has called on media and government to engage in open and honest dialogue to advance public debate. The call was made at a recently held Eastern Cape provincial Media Indaba.

Professor Herman Wasserman said that it was important that the relationship between the media and government was discussed and debated.   The role played by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at the Indaba was to make a contribution to debate informed by research.

“The fact that these debates are taking place, and the various media and government stakeholders that engage each other regularly are coming together to express their views,  is valuable in and of itself.”

He  said when government and media see each other as enemies the debates that come out of this relationship follow the same pattern.

“All the energy of the various interlocutors are then spent at discrediting 'the other side' instead of looking for solutions to the challenges we face in the country,” he said .

Prof Wasserman said the media contribution to public debate about development, public policy and social justice did not mean suspending criticism. “Quite the opposite - by pointing towards the failings of government, or by pointing out weaknesses in government policies, the media can in fact contribute to social justice and improved policies.”  

“At the same time the media should be taken to task when it reports inaccurately, presents only the viewpoints of certain groups in society, or demonstrates a poor understanding of the relevant context.”

This conflict, Prof Wasserman explained,  can have negative implications for society as a whole.

“This state of affairs also makes it difficult for civil society and scholars to critique either of the two positions, as they are then inevitably dismissed as having an agenda that serves 'the other side',” he said.  

“So contributions from outside the two poles - government and the media - become limited and ineffective.”


He said  public debates like these will remain 'talk shops' with little effect if the various participants refuse to respond to criticism and do not act and follow-up on the commitment they make.

 Prof Wasserman concluded by saying that he hoped the country and the province remain free and open for debates to continue, to which the School of Journalism and Media Studies will continue to contribute.

Story by Azwi Mufamadi

Picture by Sophie Smith