n Communicare : Journal for Communication Sciences in Southern Africa - Rethinking the role of the media in South Africa : research article

Volume 21, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0259-0069



The main purpose of this article is to stimulate and contribute to the debate about the role of the media in South Africa as a developing country. Against the background of an overview of the relationship between the government of apartheid and the media, and the similarity of this relationship to the conflict between the African National Congress (ANC) government and the media in 2000 and the early part of 2001, it is argued that there is a need to rethink the role of the media in South Africa. Such rethinking could start with a revaluation of the values underlining the concept of "freedom of expression". Both the media and the government use the concept of "freedom of expression" as a basis for their interpretation and debate about the role of the media in South Africa. Yet, the historical development of the concept, the values associated with it, and its meaning and relevance in terms of the nature of present day society, including developing societies such as South Africa, are seldom investigated and debated. In short, the concept is taken for granted and dealt with as a matter of course without critical consideration of its content, the values it embodies and its applicability to modern democracies. From such a point of view, a starting-point for discussing the role of the media in South Africa could be a critical investigation of whether the meaning(s) and values attached to the basic concept of "freedom of expression" are still appropriate today. For the government, it would entail a critical investigation of the compatibility of the concept of "freedom of expression" with the developmental role they want the media to play. For the media, it would mean an investigation into whether their modes of operation, their production of content and their distribution of information and meaning are still in line with the original values associated with the development of the concept. Tentative arguments to support this view are presented in this article.

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