Essop Pahad - Introducing the Media Development and Diversity Agency Bill at its 3rd reading in the National Council of Provinces

06 June 2002

6 June 2002

Madame Chairperson,
Honourable members

It is a great pleasure and an honour to introduce this legislation to the National Council of Provinces. It paves the way towards making a living reality for all South Africans of their right to freedom of information and expression.

Indeed the Media Development and Diversity Agency Bill, now before this House, gives expression to a major South African achievement.

It represents the building of an unprecedented partnership that will allow government, the media industry and donors to work together to redress the legacy of imbalances in access to the media.

It represents an important step towards the fulfillment of the pledge enshrined in our Constitution, that all citizens shall enjoy freedom of expression, including freedom of the media and freedom to receive or impart information and ideas.

It provides effective means for implementing the recommendation of Comtask in 1996, adopted by Cabinet, that government should:

"facilitate the process of setting up a statutorily recognised media development agency…[that] will operate a statutorily recognised subsidy system for community and independent media in South Africa."

The journey from Comtask in 1996 to NCOP in 2002 has been long and complex. But if it has evoked some impatience and frustration amongst those eager to benefit from support for media development, it has been thorough in seeking consensus in a complex sector of our society.

Conferences, consultations, research and public hearings, not to speak of debate in the media, have left the imprint of wide ranging views and opinions on this piece of legislation.

We believe that the work has been done to allow the NCOP to put the final Parliamentary seal on the MDDA Bill.

Generations of oppression and domination have left our emerging democracy with a skewed information and media landscape.

While some progress has been made in changing the media industry since the achievement of democracy, it is only a very small beginning compared with what is needed.

We are constantly reminded of the enduring legacy. Recently Statistics South Africa published results of a survey of conditions in the nodal areas of the Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Programme. Nine million South Africans live in these areas, including the bulk of the poorest of the poor. Amongst other things the survey found that in these areas only three quarters of households had a radio; and only a third a television. Other surveys tell us that in such areas newspapers are read by less than 20% of people

None of us would want such a situation to persist. We must find ways that assist in the dismantling of the many barriers to participation in the media, as consumers; as writers; as managers. 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 interests of democracy that we should all work together to address the imbalances of the past, informs the broad support for the MDDA that has been built.

A driving force in the process towards an MDDA is the principle that government, private media and international donors should jointly mobilise resources for media development and diversity. There have been debates about how to do this. A proposal for a compulsory levy on advertising has given way to a voluntary approach. But throughout, the principle of partnership has guided the process. And it is firmly entrenched in the legislation.

The media industry has committed itself to supporting the work of the MDDA. We are preparing to approach donor agencies for their support now that it has been clearly demonstrated that South Africans are going to work together in a sustained way to promote media development and diversity.

We should note that while this is a partnership, government is putting the bulk of the money into the Agency. At the same time the private sector contribution has great significance. There are also few if any countries in which the commercial media sector has joined hands with government to give material support to a statutory agency.

I must therefore once again express our appreciation of the commitment to media development and diversity on the part of the media houses. We thank them for the way they have engaged with us in working towards positions which, if they have not brought complete agreement, are ones with which all of us, I believe, can feel comfortable.

Commitments to date from government and industry, to be formalised once the Agency is in existence, amount to just over R40m per annum. There will be further material support such as training, access to print and distribution facilities or subsidies and discounts that the MDDA will be seeking for developing small media. We believe that the process towards the transformation in the advertising industry will produce creative ways of helping small media meet the challenges posed by the economic imperatives of advertising.

The composition of the Board likewise reflects the principle of partnership. Six members will be publicly nominated and appointed through a Parliamentary process. Three other members will be directly appointed by the President taking into account the funding of the Agency, and will include one from the commercial print media and one from the commercial broadcast media sector.

Madame Chair,

It is essential that an agency concerned with the media should be independent and at arms length, from government, from its funders in the media industry and from any other donors.

The Bill therefore requires the Agency to be demonstrably independent. It requires them to be impartial and to act "without fear, favour or prejudice and without any political or commercial interference".

The strong provision dealing with conflict of interest, modeled on the ICASA Act, is there to ensure that funds are not disbursed to further interests of any member of the Board.

Other principles of good corporate governance are written into the legislation.

This includes transparency in the MDDA’s operations.

Further, the Agency is subject to the Public Finance Management Act, audited by the Auditor-General, and must report to Parliament every year.

The guidelines it follows in providing support must be set out for all to see in the form of regulations. In this regard let me stress that in this matter also, the principle of partnership applies. These guidelines require the agreement of both the Board and the Minister in the making of regulations. Neither can make them on their own.

The Bill expressly prohibits the MDDA from interfering in the editorial content of the media. Its focus rather is on addressing and reducing the barriers to participation in the media that have stood in the way of the previously disadvantaged sections of our society. Support for media development will, we are convinced, create conditions favouring greater diversity.

That support will include direct cash grants to community media projects, capacity building, as well as training in all areas of media production and distribution. In the case of small commercial media the main support envisaged is the facilitation of favourable loans, including, through assistance in developing viable business plans, capacity building.

In the case of community media this may involve negotiations with advertisers and marketers to explore new ways of generating income for new operations as well as to ensure their longer-term survival.

In the case of small commercial media, the MDDA is empowered to interact with financial institutions and small business support programmes to facilitate access to loans on more favourable conditions. That would help utilise funding programmes that currently exist even where they were not explicitly created to deal with media needs.

The MDDA will liaise with organisations such as ICASA and the Universal Service Agency, so that the activities of the different bodies complement one another.

By supplementing and drawing together within a comprehensive framework many threads of support for media development and diversity, the MDDA will provide a powerful impetus to the development of community media and small commercial media amongst historically disadvantaged sectors of our society.

Its impact will, we have no doubt, be felt far beyond the small media sector.

In the course of the public hearings and discussion around this initiative, we heard eloquent expression of the hunger amongst our people for media that reflect their own lives in their own communities. Research points to their wish for more information of a kind that they can use to improve their lives.

By helping to meet those information needs, community media will promote an interest in the media generally. Those who start with media that empowers them in their immediate circumstances will move naturally to other media products. Promoting a culture of reading will be of benefit also to the established media.

When the MDDA facilitates training and capacity building in the small media sector it will be felt, as it always has been, far beyond that sector. Many of those who today are beginning to change the character of our large media houses cut their teeth in the community media sector.

In most cases the newspapers that nurtured those communication skills and creativity, the media which opened a window to public information and discourse, have disappeared. The MDDA will help create the conditions for a vigorous and expanding small media sector that will work to the benefit to the country’s entire media sector.

It will strengthen the hands of citizens as informed and active agents in the reconstruction of their country and the development of a just and prosperous society.

Honourable Chair,

I would like to thank the Standing Committee on Labour and Public Enterprises, and its chairperson, for the attention it gave to this Bill, which has enabled it to come before this Council today.

This is a momentous occasion, marking the final stages of a policy development and legislative process that has been unique in many ways.

Participation and partnership have been our watchwords as the country embarked on largely uncharted territory. It would have been possible to take another route, and for government to go it alone and simply set up a media development and diversity agency. Instead we have introduced legislation to create an agency at arms length from government and based on a partnership.

That, we believe, is the path that will do the most to foster a more diversified media in South Africa.

Though the passing of this Bill would complete the Parliamentary process, it will also open the way to the challenges of implementation and development.

Practical steps towards establishing the Agency must begin in earnest. Those who have been marginalised from the media will be planning their applications. Agreements and commitments must be formalised and finalised. A Board must come into existence and staff appointed, so that funds can be disbursed.

In short all the possibilities created by this legislation must be realised so that more of our citizens enjoy the rights of freedom of expression and information.

I commend this Bill to the National Council of Provinces.

Minister in The Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)


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