Cherish freedom of press, expression
THE perennial conflict between the media and the government almost always results in society being what governments euphemistically call collateral damage.
This damage is not entirely the fault of the government. While the government attempts to rein in what it believes are negative and irresponsible media, the media have had its back to the wall for centuries.
And the more the government makes this claim, the more society begins to believe it - even though the two come from different points to arrive at the same conclusion.
Citizens judge newspapers more on critical mistakes in our reporting. They judge us on what they perceive to be exaggerations, omissions and distortions, and sadly this is often so.
They judge us on publication of matter which they see as being in poor taste and not in the interest of society. The truth is that the closer a person is to the story, the more likely it is that they will judge it one way or another.
It is human nature that people are interested in the woes, trials and tribulations of those outside their circle and look for news or gossip about that group.
Accuracy, however, is one of the most critical elements of publishing news. If readers find a newspaper wanting in this respect, they judge the rest of the media on that basis. Readers see this as reflecting how sloppy we are in handling news generally.
The government, on the other hand, looks more for the substantive content of a newspaper and make their call on that basis. It does not matter that the information is generally correct, but they will look at the damage to the credibility of state organs and politicians and then blame the media.
Against the background of recent revelations of corruption, maladministration and abuse of state resources, citizens must question the almost pathological hatred of the press that is displayed by some in power. Even some highly-placed members of the ruling party are concerned, but they are scared to speak out.
The constant threats to media freedom often result in citizens' perception of the media as irresponsible, on the one hand, and its attempt to pacify government through indirect and sometimes direct self-censorship. Both erode the rights of citizens to information and the media must educate readers how newspapers operate and how they determine content.
As watchdogs, the media will always be seen as an adversary by government. This should under normal circumstances be healthy. But the daily transactions of the people sometimes include service delivery protests, exposure of corruption in government, self-enrichment by businessmen who milk innocent citizens of their hard-earned money and poor leadership.
For the most part, the media gets it right. In the case of Avusa newspapers, there are various accuracy and source checks and balances. Sometimes they fail and the newspaper concerned will be taken to task. It is not because the system failed, but more the result of human failure to ensure the checks are done.
So it does not make sense to call for media curbs because government does not like what it is exposing. Freedom of the press, of expression and of association are some of the most important ideals associated with democracy. It is something South Africans must cherish and protect, not lose because of a few aberrations.