Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel said on Saturday there was a need for a more intelligent public discourse that welcomed a strong stance from citizens and reached past the current rift between the state and the media.
“The idea that we have now been elected to supplant all leadership must be wrong in every aspect of the word,” Manuel told a meeting of the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef).
‘We don’t have laurels … We are sitting on thorns. We can’t mark time and we can’t depend on the megaphone and the toyi-toyi.
“We need a different quality of discourse. We need to raise the level of interaction … and it is not a venture that is possible without the press actively applying its mind.”
The country could not tolerate a minority that enriched itself at the expense of the majority, he added, but needed a capable state, involved citizens and leadership at all levels of society.
Recalling instances of concerned communities stepping in where schools and hospitals were failing them, he said the question that underpinned the work of the National Planning Commission (NPC) was what kind of catalyst would empower South Africans to act responsibly on their own behalf.
“This is very subversive talk for a minister, but it is fundamental to what I think we need to do to give quality, depth and dynamism to democracy.
‘Information not the same as selling newspapers’
“Ultimately things that happen in society … how many jobs there are available, all of these are compacts structured in society. What our democracy needs to do is to enable the formation of these kinds of compacts, if it fails in that we fail in everything we do.”
Manuel said public debate had become increasingly polarised but he believed politicians and journalists should be able to work in a less conflictual fashion, without either party losing their integrity.
“The key question is whether there is the room , the space, the desirability for complementarity, which is not the same as you becoming our lapdogs,” he said.
“Somehow we have to find the overlap. At one level we have a collective responsibility to communicate, we have the need for you to intermediate on our behalves, and you have that responsibility broadly writ in society, but frequently you also have your owner and their representatives breathing down your necks because information is not quite the same as selling newspapers.”
He regretted that on many issues, including the contested Protection of State Information Bill, the government and the fourth estate had increasingly been shouting at each other.
“How do we find each other? Because if we don’t I think that there is a vacuum that lays the basis for creating a society that becomes increasingly less informed about itself.
“It is in many ways a responsibility that in quiet moments we understand and appreciate each other.
“Sometimes judgments are clouded by the events of the day,” Manuel said, adding in a mocking voice: “He voted for that Bill, he’s a danger to our cause.”
“The question is whether we have the intellectual strength and the maturity to deal with such issues.” – Sapa