SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: On Friday 18 October at The University of the Witwatersrand, the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ), Wits Journalism and Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) held a Media Freedom Day event to commemorate Black Wednesday, with Terence Nombembe, auditor general of South Africa, as the keynote speaker.
Makhudu Sefara, deputy chairperson of SANEF and editor of The Star newspaper was the master of ceremonies while Glenda Daniels, senior researcher at Wits Journalism provided a welcome and introduction to the event.
Reflecting back on Black Wednesday, a governmental suppression of the media and black consciousness movements in South Africa by justice minister Jimmy Kruger on 19 October 1977, Terence Nombembe, head of the auditor general office was asked to speak on how the media has helped the organisation advance issues of good governance in South Africa.
Nombembe began by saying that “despite pitfalls, there is a global recognition of the many successes happening in South Africa, and this means we are doing something right as an institution.’
The founding principles of working with media and the government are based on declarations made by the auditing community to remain unfettered, independent and free from influence, delivering factual information that is supported by evidence. Nombembe remarked that this relationship between the auditor’s office and media houses had taken time, training and engagement to grow.
Nombembe added: “Today I am proud to say that few journalists have a misunderstanding about how to convey information pertaining to governance to the public, using only that which comes out of the audit report.’ He went on to say that through this co-operation media have the power to increase citizen engagement and empowerment.
He said that there were still challenges to face with regards to government being accountable and implementing action on known shortfalls found in the auditor’s report. Great efforts are being made within the auditor’s office to help leaders understand these conclusions and Nombembe mentioned: “By bringing about a greater consciousness among government leaders, we are helping them assess how to act on these issues.’
When asked what impact the Protection of State Information Bill could potentially have on future audit reports, Nombembe responded: “There is nothing in the Secrecy Bill that can prevent us from commenting on the abuse or the misadministration of funds, or examining high-risk funds. The Public Order Act still gives us permission to announce anything that points out anti-good governance.’
Thus far, Nombembe maintained that there had been no intimidation to influence reports.
Report by Carly Barnes