SA Media In Full Colour

“South Africa over the last 15 years can be characterised by its profound political and economic transformation, which has impacted all spheres of life for its citizens. Since 1994, the country has moved from racial discrimination to a non-racial democracy, where the rights of South Africans are protected in the Constitution,” says Lumko Mtimde, Chief Executive Officer of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA). But how far has the South African media come? To what extent has the sector committed itself to the overall transformational agenda?

According to research conducted by the MDDA, a public private initiative, established in 2004 through the MDDA Act of 2002 to encourage an enabling environment for media development and diversity, 13 private commercial radio stations have a Historically Disadvantaged Individual (HDI) ownership of 58% on average. On the television front, private commercial television station’s HDI ownership sits on an average of 64.4% per television station.

In the print media sector, HDIs have less than 26% ownership overall. Concentrated amongst four major players, namely; Naspers (through its subsidiary Media 24), Caxton, Avusa and other foreign-owned Independent newspapers, the research shows that the print media landscape post-1994 has not transformed much, in terms of ownership and control. Currently, the majority of print media is still owned by a few companies and individuals, in spite of the various interventions by the state, through the promotion of the transformation processes and Black Economic Empowerment initiatives.

According to Mtimde, the transformation figures in the broadcasting arena are relatively higher than the print media sector, due to a number of reasons. “The changes in the broadcasting industry reflects the success of the work of the then Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) (established in terms of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act of 1993) and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA) regulatory and licensing interventions,” he says. “For example, one of the criteria to qualify for licensing enshrined in the IBA Act and now, the Electronic Communications Act, is ownership by HDIs, limitations on foreign ownership to 20%, and that broadcasting is effectively controlled by South Africans.”

Print media, on the other hand, has not been subjected to any similar interventions, explains Mtimde. The sector is self-regulated and any transformative changes that took place were made at the media’s own pace. The print media sector does not subscribe to any charter aligned to the Code of Good Practise for Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment; whereas the other sectors developed the MAC Charter (Marketing, Advertising and Communications) and ICT Charter (broadcast media and ICT broadly), which they are expected to adhere to.

Says Mtimde; “There may well be other reasons, including entry barriers, such as access to finance, technology and skills, as well as the fact that the business model of a start-up print media organisation would project a long-term breakeven, as a result of the expensive nature of production, printing and distribution,” he says. “We are constantly engaging with the sector and the information we gain will enrich our strategy going forward.”

Mtimde says that even though the historically disadvantaged individual ownership percentage is only at 26%, credit should still be given to the sector in terms of operational control by HDI management and editors, skills development and training, learnerships, internships, bursaries and the like.

“South African broadcast media is representative of the demographics of our country, though there is still room for improvement, more so with regard to indigenous languages on television, etcetera,” he says. “Print media, on the other hand, has shown some progress with respect to HDIs in business and editorial management, but is lacking in respect of ownership by HDIs.”

The MDDA maintains that transformation should take place not only in terms of employment equity, but also at the level of the shareholder – and at all other levels of the value chain. “Diverse media will ensure that our democracy advances, is deepened and is always defended,” says Mtimde. “The MDDA encourages the ownership, control and access to media by historically disadvantaged communities, as well as by the historically diminished indigenous language and cultural groups.”

Supporting the work of the MDDA is the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI). The primary role of the FXI is to uphold the tenets of the Constitution and the promotion of individuality of thoughts and differences of opinion, as a means to enhance a culture of diversity, which is in accordance with the underlying intention and spirit of the Constitution.

According to Melissa Moore, acting executive director for the FXI, “One of the prime objectives of the FXI is to conduct a rigorous examination of all bodies, both public and private, and to ensure accountability and the broadest possible spread of opinions and views. We do not endorse any party political view but, in terms of transformation, we fully support the development of HDIs, since this is itself recognised in our Constitution,” she says. “The FXI also believes that it is important that HDIs are given the opportunity to participate under mentoring schemes, which enable the transfer of skills and technological know-how, without which it is not possible to have a meaningful role in any form of the media. The important thing is to ensure the right to participate in the market and the outright rejection of any system which limits or inhibits such participation. This can be done by ensuring that, within the regulatory framework, HDIs have access to new licenses, to promote a diversity of ownership and allow greater access to the economy.”

The MDDA is working hard to overcome obstacles to transformation through various means. In order to raise awareness on the trends of ownership and control of the media, research is conducted in accordance with the MDDA Act, advocating for diverse media in the country. Furthermore, the Agency supports and funds emerging media initiatives such as community and small commercial media. To date, the Agency has supported about 259 initiatives with just over R90-million from its inception in 2004. It has also supported a number of capacity building, skills development and training programmes, including providing bursaries to media practitioners practising in the community and small commercial media spaces.

Just recently, on Media Freedom Day, October 19, the MDDA, together with the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Commission for Gender Equality, South African Human Rights Commission and ICASA started a joint dialogue process, discussing the transformation of media and reflecting on the 15 years of democracy. Through the Transformation, Gender and Media Dialogue, the hope is to establish robust discussions on the reasons behind transformation challenges and adopt strategies that will assist in making the shift to a more demographically representative media, on all levels. “It is accurate to say that the process of transformation is on course, evidenced by the support the media has for the interventions resulting from the establishment of the MDDA and the funding agreements between the media houses and the Agency,” says Mtimde.

Present at the event (Media Freedom Day, October 19) were more than 100 individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds, including academics, trade unions, organs of civil society, media practitioners, media organisations, the Film and Publications Board and Chapter 9 constitutional institutions.

“In order to change the media landscape to be more representative, South Africa needs to reflect, look at the current trends, establish the challenges, identify transformational gaps and then together, strategise towards implementing change. We need to work together towards further transformation and towards achieving the goals of a growing, developing and diverse media, envisaged in terms of the MDDA Act of 2002,” says Mtimde. “The media in the next ten years should reflect the demographics of South Africa in every respect in the value chain.”

Moore agrees, saying that the easiest and most effective way to increase the participation of HDIs in the media is to reward businesses which actively pursue a policy of skills transfer and intellectual empowerment. “New opportunities should be created, rather than redistributing existing assets. There is an inherent danger in redistribution, since it tends to create new oligarchies, rather than to open up a vista of opportunity for the broader public and will replace one form of oppression with another. Opening up a vista of opportunity should be done in a manner that promotes greater freedom of expression and understanding of the nature and manner in which the media works,” she says. “Information is essential and more emphasis needs to be placed on training and development, as well as the provision of funds to emerging historically disadvantaged entrants in the market. By fostering competition, one will develop a far more representative media, which is responsive to a far broader spectrum of views and will erode monopolistic practice.”

Author: Charlene Yared-West. Published in Black Business Quarterly BBQ, December 2009, Fourth Quarter Edition, p. 47.