Information and access to information tools for members of disadvantaged communities in South Africa have taken on a new and exciting meaning since July last year, as President Thabo Mbeki signed in to law the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) which is to be up and running at the beginning of this year, 2003.
As we celebrate the birth of the MDDA, it is worthwhile to reflect on some of the challenges it will face, and on the expectations of South Africa's emerging publishers.
Fundamentally, the Agency will contribute to the process of transforming ownership, control and broadcast, distribution and printing infrastructure patterns in the media with a strong bias towards the development of local community-based and marginalised media activities.
The establishment of the MDDA has been spearheaded by the Government Communications and Information Systems, GCIS.
However, the MDDA will be an independent body, accountable to the Parliament of South Africa. The Parliament Portfolio Committee on Communications will be responsible for the appointment of a Board that will oversee the workings of the Agency.
President Mbeki appointed the nine-member Board which will govern the MDDA.
The nine members of the Board include Gibson Boloka, Nomhle Canca, Kerry Jane Cullinan, Khanyiswa Mkhonza, Christopher James Moerdyk, Connie Molusi, Nunu Ntshinga, Govin Reddy and Tony Trew.
Recently, the Government's Portfolio Committee on Communications invited local communities and the general public to nominate people to serve on the MDDA Board in advertisements that appeared in all major South African newspapers.
The aim was to nominate people for the MDDA that represent the interest of general public as well as persons who are committed to media diversity and possess a broad range of knowledge and understanding of the media environment in the country.
With the board members nominated, the office of the MDDA CEO will be established by the Board to facilitate the evaluation process and needs assessments in local communities and marginalised areas in order to provide services in a suitable and responsible manner.
The Minister in the Presidency, Dr. Essop Pahad, who introduced the MDDA bill to Parliament, said the MDDA represent the building of an unprecedented partnership that would allow government, the media industry and donors to work together to redress the legacy of imbalances in access to the media.
Dr. Pahad who is also the minister responsible for GCIS said generations of oppression and domination left South Africa's emerging democracy with a skewed information and media landscape.
"None of us would want to see such a situation persist. We must find ways that assist in the dismantling of the many barriers to participation in the media, as consumers, as writers and as managers.
The MDDA further aims to make up for the backlog that disadvantaged communities suffered in terms of access to tools such as radio, newspaper, television and other forms of media and products related to the industry. The MDDA will assist in the development of new and different media than currently exists, especially community and small commercial media projects.
The new South African government was formed in 1994 based on a policy manifesto of the Reconstruction and Development programme (RDP).
The RDP envisaged information and media programmes linked to community, municipal district and local development.
Since 1994, great strides have been made in the transformation of the media and information sector in South Africa. However, a great deal of challenges lie ahead with policy development, legislation regulation still on the cards of policymakers to
transform the sector.
Against this backdrop, the MDDA was conceived through a joint partnership between private media owners and government to 'promote development and diversity in the South African media throughout the country, consistent with the right to freedom of expression as entrenched in Section 16 (of 1) of the Constitution.
"Transformation must touch every major institution and sector of our society if we are to make a reality of our vision of a fully democratic society. That includes the media. The recognition that it is in the interest of democracy that we should all work together to address the imbalances of the past, informs the board support
for which the MDDA has been built."
"The Agency will promote the critical elements of the RDP of government with a specific focus on media development and diversity," Dr Pahad said.
The MDDA Act is available on the government website (www.gov.za).
Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)