This week The Journalist begins a series on Editorial Independence. It has been sparked by the eTV saga, starring Marcel Golding as our newfound ‘champion’ of media freedom. The Minister’s statement is run here to provide context for the analysis by Zubeida Jaffer and a scathing column by Professor Patrick Bond of the University of Kwa Zulu Natal.
I have taken note of the reports relating to claims attributed to Mr Yunus Shaik on news coverage requests from me to eTV on infrastructure rollouts and wish to state the following.
In August 2013, the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission requested that I develop and implement a communications plan to promote information about government’s infrastructure rollout.
In pursuance of this we met with representatives of various media houses, including with Mr Marcel Golding, whom I know well and we presented a detailed report on government’s infrastructure plan. Mr Golding noted that the plan contained many elements that eTV may be interested in covering.
These included infrastructure launches and stories about the impact of completed infrastructure on communities and the lives of ordinary South Africans. The stories included a focus on the people who work on the projects, supply components, the impact on surrounding communities and other beneficiaries, including youth, small business owners and local producers.
In this context, we liaised with various eTV representatives – as we did with a number of other media houses – on what we believed to be interesting and newsworthy stories, including the opening of power stations, green energy projects and the opening of new dams.
eTV – we assume based on its editorial discretion – in some cases covered these launches in their news programmes and in some cases did not. Aside from putting our reasons why we believe any given infrastructure rollout is newsworthy, we did not interfere in eTV’s editorial decisions nor in that of any of the many other media houses with whom we interact on a regular basis.
Furthermore, eTV produced and flighted a number of short documentaries on the infrastructure projects of government, covering among others new schools, bridges in rural areas and the energy-build programme. ETV also flighted paid adverts on the national infrastructure plan on their channels.
In respect of the coverage of the opening of the De Hoop dam which is referred to in the HCI/eTV matter, the PICC officials who liaised with the media advises that eTV indicated they were interested to cover the event as a news story. This is because the R3,5 billion De Hoop Dam was the biggest new dam opening in a number of years (and is the 13th largest dam in the country) and will provide water to rural communities in Sekhukune and to large mines in the area.
I am advised that eTV subsequently informed the PICC they could not send a camera crew to the dam opening because of the distance and would rely on GCIS feed for the story. I was present at the opening of the Dam and was asked to facilitate their receipt of the footage from GCIS, which I duly did. ETV during the course of the afternoon advised the PICC staff that the footage may be received too late for use in their bulletins.
I note that the opening of the dam was widely reported in the media, including by City Press, The Citizen, News24, Timeslive, the SABC, the eNCA website and Engineering News among others, as a web-search will show.
It is government’s duty to ensure that the public are made aware of these projects. We interact with the media in an open and ethical manner to ensure they are better equipped to keep the public informed. The media as a whole covered progress with the infrastructure programme extensively and government further utilised billboards, advertising and media partnerships to communicate with South Africans.
Aside from this clarification, I decline to be drawn into the dispute within HCI, which involves individuals with whom I have worked in the past and with whom I continue to have a good relationship. I believe however it is wrong for any party to such dispute to try to draw government into it and trust that they will be able to resolve their differences without involving government.
Issued for the Minister of Economic Development, Mr Ebrahim Patel. (Contact details: email@example.com).