Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 42

Thought leader
Are our media holding our
institutions accountable?
The media are often seen as having the potential to contribute to social
progress on a number of levels. These contributions can be linked to several
of the United Nations (UN) sustainable development goals (SDGs). The role
that the media can play in deepening democracy, for instance, is often held
up as an important justification for allowing the media freedom to criticise
politicians and officials. The media are therefore seen as an important
democratic institution that can contribute to SDG 16: the promotion of just,
peaceful and inclusive societies, writes Herman Wasserman.
The idea that the media can act as the ‘fourth estate’ in
society by acting as a watchdog over corruption and
abuse of power is one that is entrenched in journalistic
norms and in the popular imagination. The amount of
space and airtime that has been given to the money
spent on President Zuma’s Nkandla homestead is
a good example of this type of journalistic work.
According to this view, such reporting can assist
democratic societies in reaching particular targets
of SDG 16, such as ‘Substantially reduce corruption
and bribery in all their forms’, and ‘Develop effective,
accountable and transparent institutions at all levels’.
Despite the media’s claims to making these
contributions to the deepening of democracy and the
development of society, there is often disagreement
about how well this ideal is translated into practice.
Furthermore, there is much controversy around
exactly what these roles should entail in the first
place. For instance: what should the relationship be,
exactly, between the media and government? Should
a different role be expected of media in transitional
democracies than we expect in established ones?
How well do the South African media perform these
roles? How should these contributions be measured?

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