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Media must help public cling to our freedoms

by Paul Vecchiatto, 30 November 2012, 16:51
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THE passing of the Protection of State Information Bill by Parliament’s upper house, the National Council of Provinces, proves that the media must monitor the workings of government ever more closely and effectively.

While there has been a lot of outcry over the proposed law and its effect on free reporting, it is really up to the media companies themselves to look closely at the best way of reporting what happens in the only public areas where government business is discussed, namely Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal councils.

It means that the work to rule principle that governs reporters’ behaviour and working hours has to be chucked out the window. The reason for this is that a lot of Parliamentary and other public committee discussions often go beyond normal working hours and those of print, TV and radio deadlines.

The only real answer in ensuring continuous reporting of these committees proceedings, discussions and decisions is to have a reporter physically present who keeps a continuous stream of live articles, commentary and other forms of internet-based communication going.

If the 80:20 rule (Pareto’s Principle) is applied to government business, it means that already only 20% of government business is open to public scrutiny, the rest being conducted behind closed doors.

Should the Protection of State Information Bill be passed in its present form, this window on the government and public sector will be closed even further.

This situation would demand even closer monitoring and reporting of that business that is still open to public scrutiny.

Otherwise there is no way to effectively ensure the government is continuously adhering to its social compact through the effective use of taxpayer money or the creation and implementation of policies in the public interest.

For media houses that have the resources, the situation will demand that they find, develop, equip and train reporters to do this.

It also means they will have to allow far greater public participation in their reporting and to encourage it.

Advertisers will have to realise that supporting such reporting endeavours will pay them in the longer run as a more politically aware and in-tune population reads and follows online reportage.

As the government increasingly seeks to limit our freedoms, it is up to the public to cling to them in every way possible. Even with the edges of our fingernails.

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