Ramaphosa heaps praise on media for Covid-19 coverage

President Cyril Ramaphosa has heaped praise on SA's media for its coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has heaped praise on SA's media for its coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER

President Cyril Ramaphosa has heaped praise on South Africa's media for its coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Writing in his weekly newsletter on Monday, the president said the media should be lauded for “sterling work”. 

“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,” he said.

“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.”

The media, he said, had also shone a light on excesses that “perhaps would not have ordinarily come to light”.

“They have fulfilled their watchdog role by unearthing acts of corruption and maladministration, sparking a massive national debate and leading to a number of high-profile investigations. Through this reporting they have earned people’s trust.

“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.

Ramaphosa was concerned that media houses had been hit hard by the economic fallout of the virus.

“Some publications lost as much as 60% of their income in the early days of the lockdown. 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 exacerbated 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.

“These financial difficulties are being faced across the board, from online titles to traditional broadsheets to the public broadcaster.”

This was one of the issues that was raised during his engagement with the South African National Editors’ Forum last week, he said.

“Instead of lamenting their fate, however, the media industry is working hard to refine business models, to drive innovation and to retain staff as much as possible. At the same time, the media is a unique entity in any society because its practitioners fulfil a role that is so essential to our democratic order.

“They work to keep the public informed and to keep power in check. We need more journalists, not less. That is why the loss of even a single journalist is not just a loss to the industry but to the country. We need our media veterans, who bring with them vast experience and institutional memory, and are able to offer critical reportage and informed analysis.

"At the same time we need more young journalists in the profession who are tech-savvy, abreast with new trends in storytelling and in touch with the concerns of a youthful population. As a society we owe the media our full support.”

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