THE South African media has a good "freedom dispensation" but it is not the best on the continent, says the head of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, Professor Guy Berger, writes Keith Ross in the Daily News.

He said some studies saw Mali and Ghana as countries with more media freedom than South Africa.

But he felt that in practice the South African media was prepared to "speak truth to power" and confront abuses.

"On the whole we have a media that does serve us as a society," said Berger.

'The media's role was to inform, educate and entertain'
"The one question we need to look at is access to the media, because in terms of really communicating with the mass of the population, we need to have a lot more media."

Berger said this media weakness was shown up by the coverage of the many service delivery protests taking place.

"There is a huge lack of accountability and a very problematic communications flow at the local level," he said.

"We really need a lot more media there to speak power at the local level, to give ordinary citizens at the local level the power to actually make a difference through communication, rather than having to resort to barricades."

Berger made these points when taking part in the SAfm Radio discussion programme, the After Eight Debate, on the media's role in communication.

The debate was held to mark Media Freedom Day, which commemorates "Black Wednesday" in 1977, when the apartheid government closed three newspapers and banned many organisations.

Berger spoke of trends in the newspaper industry, with some titles, especially the tabloid variety, highlighting entertainment value rather than facts. "Sometimes you wonder if there are any facts in the entertainment," he said.

"But I think the readers often even take it as entertainment. They do not take it as pure information. But I think it would be wrong to say that all newspapers have moved into the entertainment business."

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