Address by the Honourable Minister of Communications, Ms Dina Pule, MP, at the Telkom Classic Business Journalist of the Year Awards
26 Sep 2012
CEO of Telkom, Ms Pinky Moholi
Classic FM Station Manager, Mr Dominic Ntsele
Journalists and nominees
Ladies and gentlemen
A Chinese curse supposedly declares, “May you live in interesting times.” Certainly we in South Africa have been blessed with a country that has captivated the world’s imagination. Since that fateful day in 1990 which saw the release of former President Nelson Mandela, we have never suffered the ignominy of a dull moment. For journalists such as yourselves, this has been a boon to grasp.
The media in South Africa have been fed rich on a diet of the birth of a new nation and its growing pains. Along with this role as custodians of the first draft of history, the media has a responsibility to ensure that they report accurately and fairly on the rise of the continent’s largest economy in what is slowly becoming the African century.
While the rest of the world battles crumbling economies, the African continent has seen unprecedented growth. The International Monetary Fund predicts that the African continent will have the world’s fastest growing economy over the next five years. Technology has played an essential role in accelerating growth. We only have to look at Kenya’s m-Pesa mobile money service to realise how technology can unlock economic potential.
We understand that a strong telecommunications infrastructure is a critical factor in facilitating economic growth. This is why we have embarked on a review of the Information Communications and Technology (ICT) policy environment. We want to modernise the country’s ICT legislative environment to ensure that our citizens extract maximum benefit from this sector. Earlier this year we met industry role-players at a colloquium aimed at gathering their thoughts on moving the industry forward.
We adopted a consultative approach in overhauling our policies because we wanted to gain from the invaluable insights residing in the sector and to ensure collective ownership of this process. We are busy with the drafting of a new White Paper for the Telecommunications industry to ensure that we are geared to take advantage of the opportunities that the 21st century provides. The Department of Communications will fulfill its mandate to lead the sector.
While the policy review process is underway, work has not stopped. We are pursuing technical amendments to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and Electronic Communication Act (ECA).
We have extended the public consultation process on the Electronic Communication Amendment Bill. The ICASA Amendment Bill will be gazetted later this month.
With the ICASA amendments, we are focusing on streamlining operations and governance. For example, we want to empower ICASA to better enforce the licence obligations of operators. Linked to this, we are proposing a review of the fees for transgressions. At the moment, you find that operators can transgress some conditions because they can afford to pay the fee. (At the moment, the maximum fine is R250 000).
With the ECA, we want to reinforce Sentech's role as a common carrier. We are also focusing on eliminating anti-competitive behaviour.
In line with the priorities of the country, we are using the ECA amendments to facilitate transformation of the sector by encouraging the entry of SMEs and the enhancement of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).
A key element of our work is the introduction of a broadband strategy. We now have a draft broadband strategy and are looking to develop a broadband plan with various stakeholders. We have noted that broadband rollout is being driven in an uncoordinated manner across all spheres of government and within the private sector. The broadband plan will serve as a blueprint for the national rollout of broadband to ensure that universal access is achieved.
With regard to the policy on spectrum, in South Africa we currently use the 800mhz for TV broadcasting. This frequency band will only be available after 2015 when we complete our digital migration. The 2.6ghz will be released shortly as only the policy must be approved. These bands are being released according to specifications from the International Telecommunication Union.
Next week we will host a proof of concept launch for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT). We will demonstrate the department’s readiness to rollout Digital Television. As we speak the various role-players are gearing themselves up for their part in the rollout. Sentech, the signal distributor, has already covered more than 60 percent of the country to receive Digital Television. The full launch will take place in December. We have taken e-TV’s concerns into consideration and are working towards finding an amicable solution.
With regard to Telkom we are following the Cabinet processes and are waiting for this process to reach its conclusion.
Another exciting initiative we are proud to be leading is the corporatisation of Postbank. This will ensure that more of the previously unbanked will be catered for using the Post Office’s reach and vast network. While the mandate of the Postbank will be developmental in thrust it will still be expected to compete against commercial lenders. The Postbank Board is in place and is entrusted with finalising the corporatisation of the bank. We are hoping to complete this within the financial year.
Working with the Office of the Auditor-General we have vigorously adopted the Operation Clean Audit 2014 campaign. Earlier this month the Auditor-General met with the Department of Communications and its various entities to map out a route to achieving sustainable clean audits by 2014.
Today is a day to savour. We are celebrating the freedom of the press, one of the most important rights that the African National Congress (ANC) and many of its leaders have championed over many decades. This led to the protection of these rights in our country's progressive Constitution.
We have always envisaged an environment where the press is allowed room to enrich our democracy with neither fear nor favour and to advance the values espoused in our Constitution. During the apartheid years we vigorously campaigned for the freedom of the press and the unbanning of progressive newspapers and journalists. This was a vital part of giving a voice to the voiceless.
I recognise the importance and the role of press freedom and freedom of speech in our society. The press is an important partner in helping government deliver services to our citizens. It is one of the platforms to interrogate government's intentions with its programmes and to disseminate information to everyone. Working together with the press, government can improve its ability to deliver services that can improve the quality of healthcare and education we deliver as the state.
It can help us achieve rural development and fight crime and corruption by highlighting areas that need government attention and also fairly reflecting on government's successes.
As society, we must be vigilant and facilitate the creation of an atmosphere of a vibrant free press in South Africa while vigorously challenging any abuse of this freedom. Abuse of press freedom is no different to the abuse of other freedoms protected by the Constitution.
As citizens of a transforming country, we need our press to do good. As citizens, we must demand higher stands of journalism, in a similar manner that we demand higher standards of our Parliament, judiciary and government.
The late US jurist and politician, Earl Warren, stated that:
“The sports page records people's accomplishments, the front page usually records nothing, but man's failures.”
When you read newspapers, listen to radio or watch television news, you would think we won't have a country the following day. While a lot of the news is a mirror through which our society reflects itself, a fair amount of news is manufactured controversy. One only has to look at the unprecedented coverage given to minor figures who are nothing but paper tigers, in the aftermath of Marikana. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves what role have the press played in inflaming and exacerbating tensions.
The press coverage of Marikana also showed the two, very different worlds inhabited by our journalists. They did exceptionally well to bring home the unfortunate developments in that mining town.
But, I think they missed an opportunity of bringing a balance to their reportage by comparing Marikana to how the mine workers at Exxaro are treating labour relations. You will remember that in December 2011, the Exxaro empowerment scheme paid out hundreds of thousands of rands to their employees who qualified as members of the scheme. In this way, the press missed an opportunity to fairly represent South Africa's credentials as an investment destination.
To the winners, congratulations. I hope you wrote your winning stories for public good and the awards you have won is the icing on the cake. Your efforts have contributed towards building our democracy.
I'd like you to remember the words of former President Nelson Mandela when closing the 13th International Aids Conference in Durban. He said the following:
"It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die."
Issued by: Department of Communications
26 Sep 2012
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