The government and media need to respect each other's roles if they are to address South Africa's problems, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said on Friday.
"This understanding is critical if we are to establish and maintain a robust, participatory democracy in which all of us work together to build a better society and economy," Motlanthe said at the opening of a meeting between the government and South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) in Magaliesburg.
"We recognised that media freedom and access to information had to be secured alongside the responsibility of government to conduct its work transparently and to communicate with the public." Motlanthe added that the government had a duty to ensure there was a diversity of opinion in public discourse and that no voice should go unheard.
"In an open democracy such as ours, these voices don't have to be mutually agreeable and don't have to agree with government."
However, Motlanthe argued that the media should help focus the nation's attention on its goals and ambitions.
"Can we as government and the media jointly harness the nation's energy towards the achievement of our national goals, in the same way that we rallied our nation behind Bafana Bafana, Banyana Banyana, the Proteas or the Springboks?"
Motlanthe said South Africans and audiences abroad, including potential investors, learned about the country through the media. In the past it had told the world the "South African story".
It is a story that is jointly authored by government and the media, with government putting in place and communicating a broad range of policies and actions that the media in turn convey to the broader public."
Motlanthe noted that his remarks at the Sanef meeting came on the 35th anniversary of "Black Wednesday", October 19 1977, when the government shut down three newspapers deemed critical of the state.
He said the government and media were now able to meet "in the glare of a democratic sunshine".
Sanef deputy chair Nic Dawes welcomed Motlanthe's remarks and noted that they had much in common. "I think it is a tribute to our democracy that we've come as far as we have," Dawes said.
Sanef still had some concerns with the government's approach to the media, but believed these would be dealt with in future. Dawes said the forum hoped the government would reconsider apartheid-era security laws that restricted the work of journalists. – Sapa