As I hurriedly tried to wrap my head around the fact that 24 hours in a day is never enough, I began to think this is more-so for journalists in the never-ending rat race that is meeting deadlines and keeping a semi-decent head on your shoulders.
Third cup of coffee in hand, I allow myself a few moments to catch a breather and think about this idea of journalism being a voice of truth. One may assume that being in the journalistic profession automatically means that a person inclines themselves with processes of verification when sourcing, writing and conversing in the journalistic space. What then, do the people we hold in positions of power use to measure their own veritas and with what form of gravitas can we hold them accountable?
The Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) is one such way we as journo’s can point (yet another) finger at those in positions of power. Established in 1999, and externally funded, PSAM is a young organisation that is packing a lot of punch in the accountability ring. The main aim of PSAM is to improve public service delivery and make known and enforce constitutional rights through social accountability tools. Yes, journalists, that is a direct reference to our role and sometimes personality traits.
PSAM, much like the name suggests is a monitoring, accountability and research mechanism that ensures that government (and other public based institutions) are meeting the obligations they have to the public. These obligations are of course set out in the constitution and not merely random rantings with no depth or grounding, ie, they’re important.
Now, understanding legalese is not something many (myself included) are able to do with ease, but luckily a simplification of which sections deal with what can allow one to see where player a – PSAM, may need to teach player b – government exactly how to play nice with player c – the public.
An important section to note would be Section 40. This section deals with local government which can be divided into three spheres: national, provincial and local. PSAM’s role with these is to ensure that they each function effectively, coherently and have that good amount of transparency. They ensure the veritas of their roles are fully lived out.
Section 195 mentions the values and principles regarding public administration, that is, how government remain truthful to their role to the public. Again, journalists are to rectify any instances of dissonance with regard to this and make sure that there is a good interrelation between all three spheres. Now, issues with municipalities is one way in which PSAM may enforce their accountability role. By ensuring that these members are held accountable for instances where they have failed to deliver, PSAM is the yardstick by which to measure performance. PSAM uses the various other bodies (like municipal councils, MEC’s, auditors, etc) to ensure that all members know their roles and responsibilities and that they can be held responsible if they are not fulfilling them. So perhaps PSAM is not a yardstick, but a yardstick for the institutions yardsticks. The grounding for their truth and roles.
Although this is a simplification, one understands the role of an accountability body in a journalistic context. It’s nice to know that journo’s aren’t the only truth keepers, and that we remain relevant tools for gate-keeping even when bodies like PSAM are established.