The SANDF and the media


People serving in the media relations and communications sections of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would do well to take heed of SA Navy Chief Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu’s opinion on the military/media interface.
“The media can be an effective force multiplier and we should see and use it as such,” he said at the launch of IONSphere, a naval journal with its roots in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS).

This writer can only offer a big Bravo Zulu and hope the admiral’s exhortations to “give the media the information they ask for” becomes embedded in standard operating procedure across all four arms of service.

Having dealings with military media liaison officers over a more than 15-year period, it is obvious, with some notable exceptions, that the SANDF sees the media more as an enemy, at best a nuisance, than an ally. Requests for information and answers to questions regarding a variety of defence and military matters routinely have to be chased up, sometimes up to four or five times, before some sort of response is forthcoming.

When following up one is told “we are awaiting a final sign-off”, “it’s in process” or even “the person who has to deal with that is out of office/on leave/off sick” among other ruses.

Responses, again with exceptions, tend to be more in the politico-speak format than direct answers.

This is not a satisfactory state of affairs given the SANDF wants to be seen as “The Pride of the Nation”.

The Navy boss’s words should be taken alongside that of former SA Air Force Chief, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano. Soon after taking over command in 2005 he issued an instruction to his media liaison team that all media enquiries should be answered within 24 hours of receipt.

That, coupled with Mudimu’s “force multiplier” statement, should be more than enough motivation for those serving as media liaison officers to stand up and serve – properly.

It will certainly give forward impetus to “The Pride of the Nation” concept SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke is aiming for.