Essop Pahad - Introducing the Media Development & Diversity Agency Bill - 2nd reading

15 May 2002

15 May 2002

Madame Speaker,
Honourable Members,

When our nation adopted the Constitution, this Parliament was set a vital task.

It is the task of providing a framework of policy and law that can make our rights a living reality for all South Africans, rich and poor, young and old, male and female, urban and rural, black and white.

The Constitution enjoins us to correct the imbalances arising out of our unjust past.

It enshrines the aspirations of South Africa’s people for a truly democratic society.

In particular the constitution affirms and entrenches the right of all South Africans to freedom of expression, embracing the freedom of the press and other media and the freedom to receive and impart information or ideas.

The Bill, which I have the privilege of introducing today, is one small but significant contribution to the task of translating the aspiration to freedom of expression into actuality.

When our country emerged from generations of oppression and discrimination these rights were enjoyed in practice only by a minority of citizens.

Even today, though there has been progress, there are still millions of South Africans who have minimal access to these rights. Let us remind ourselves of the stark reality. To us, reading newspapers, listening to radio and watching television are as familiar as breathing and eating. But barely half of South Africans read newspapers or magazines, in rural areas less than a third. Only three quarters of South Africans watch television, and millions are still beyond the reach of FM radio.

And given the distribution of wealth in our society and the history of neglect of the education of the majority, the communications landscape which Comtask surveyed in 1993 was one of barriers to full participation of most South Africans in the media. There were barriers of different kinds to people participating as consumers, as writers, as managers or owners, or as citizens who find perspectives in the media matching their own experience and aspirations.

Such was the marginalisation of the poor and of black people from the media world that Comtask concluded that it was necessary to establish an agency whose task would be to lower those barriers so that in a reasonable time the imbalances should diminish.

The progress that has been made in the boardrooms and newsrooms is welcome. But measured against the needs of the situation it is a drop in the ocean and only a beginning.

It was from such premises and aspirations, part of our founding national consensus as a nation, that the project towards a Media Development and Diversity Agency began.

The MDDA Bill embodies the principles and objectives that have informed this initiative from the start and through the long consultation with stakeholders. In my budget speech two years ago I enumerated the most important of those principles.

A fundamental principle is that government, private media sector and international donors should mobilise resources to promote media development and diversity. This principle of partnership informs every facet of the agency provided for in the Bill as it informed the long and complex process of consultation with stakeholders in all sectors out of which it has emerged.

Funding from government, both existing allocations to the Department of Communications in the field of media development and a recent allocation to GCIS, will support the work of the agency. The commitments by the private sector, which can only be formalised when the agency exists and can enter into agreements, are tangible and significant. Indeed, without anticipating the precise figures we can say that there is no precedent for private sector financial contribution to a statutory agency on this scale.

I would like to thank the media houses for their positive approach during the extensive consultation process. Notwithstanding differences of opinion, we reached consensus, or at least positions that all sides were comfortable with.

This gives concrete expression to the fact that complex as the media sector is in terms of differing interests, there is an overriding consensus that it is in the interest of our democracy and of all sectors of the media and our society to act together to redress the imbalances of our past.

The principle of partnership is carried forward into the composition of the Board. Six members will be appointed through a Parliamentary process, and three directly by the President taking into account the funding of the Agency. In particular those three appointments will include one from the commercial print media and one from the commercial broadcast media sector so that there is participation in the Board from the private sector funders.

The Bill leaves open the inclusion on the Board of a representative of government as a principal funder and indeed the originator and driver of this initiative aimed at promoting development and reconstruction.

Perhaps we should note where we stand in this matter of funding.

When we assessed the gap in resources between the current situation and what would be desirable, it totaled R500 million over the next five years. After that the requirements would sharply diminish, with much of the backlog having been dealt with. With an eye on what was feasible, and on the understanding that developing media enterprises could find ways of raising the remainder from other sources, we set the target at half that amount, in other words R50m a year over five years.

We have commitments amounting to just over R40m per annum. And this does not include what will be forthcoming in terms of material support such as training, print and distribution facilities or subsidies and discounts that the MDDA will be seeking.

As far as international donors are concerned, we have proceeded on the basis that they will in the first instance want South Africans to demonstrate their commitment to make this initiative work. Having done that, we are preparing to approach donor agencies for their support for an initiative which has already awakened interest in other parts of the world.

A further basic principle informing the MDDA initiative is that the MDDA as a body promoting the rights to freedom of expression through support for media development should have a relationship with both government and the media houses, public and private, that is arms-length.

The Bill explicitly requires the Agency to be independent. It defines Independence not in terms of the composition of the Board or where it draws its members from, but by the way it acts in exercising its powers. The law requires the Board to be impartial and to act "without fear, favour or prejudice and without any political or commercial interference". There is a strong provision dealing with conflict of interest, to ensure that funds are not disbursed to further interests of any member of the Board.

Amongst the principles we affirmed from the start was that the MDDA should be a body with the necessary authority, and should have a small structure with the best systems of corporate governance.

Those involved in the wide and lengthy consultation preceding the submission of the Bill are agreed that a critical reason for the failure of earlier attempts to promote media development and diversity was their informal character. The law which this Bill proposes and the consensus amongst stakeholders will ensure the authority and status of the MDDA.

A further principle is that the MDDA should be transparent in its operations, in so far as it should conduct its operations and provide assistance on the basis of broad criteria set out for all to see. In requiring that the Board formulate publicly the criteria and guidelines it will be following in allocating support, the Bill will ensure such transparency.

A fundamental guiding principle has been that the MDDA will pursue diversity, not by interfering in the content of the media, but by promoting development that overcomes the many barriers that until now have prevented historically disadvantaged communities from being full participants in the media, whether as consumers, producers or distributors.

The Bill is informed by this conviction that in dealing with these structural impediments, it will act as a catalyst to the emergence of a more adequately diverse media. In short, development should lead to greater diversity. The Bill explicitly affirms that the MDDA will not interfere in the editorial content of the media.

In any case the agency will not have the power to do so. Where there is reference to regulations, these are guidelines for the conduct of the Board itself in the exercise of its functions. They are not regulations governing the opinions of others.

As befits a statutory body based on partnership, these guidelines have the dual authority of Board and Minister. The Bill requires effective concurrence in the prescribing and making of regulations.

The MDDA will work in partnership with those agencies that do have regulatory powers, like ICASA, and the process out of which this legislation emerges has involved co-operation and consultation with such bodies.

A broadcasting project to which the MDDA gives support could operate only if granted a licence by ICASA, and ICASA retains the sole right to grant licences according to its own criteria.

The MDDA will address those conditions which have undermined the emergence and initially, the survival of community and small media projects:

The experience of recent years has made it quite clear that the granting of a licence does not translate automatically into viability; that the transfer of equipment does not ensure sustainability and survival; and indeed that cash grants on their own will not ensure lasting health in a media enterprise.

Capacity building and training in all areas of media production and distribution therefore receive strong emphasis in the mix of support that will come from the MDDA.

By providing a powerful impetus to the development of community media and small commercial media amongst historically disadvantaged sectors of our society, the MDDA will promote diversity in our media as a whole.

Small as this initiative may be in relation to the legacy to be addressed, we are confident that it will act as a powerful catalyst.

The community media sector of today will tell you that it has acted historically as a training ground from which journalists, media workers and managers have moved into the mainstream commercial media.

By promoting a reading culture amongst South Africans a bigger community sector will expand interest in media products and processes generally, to the benefit of the established media.

It will enlarge the pool of creativity and communications skills in our country.

In short, a vigorous and expanding community media sector will have consequences far beyond its own sphere, to the benefit of the entire media sector of South Africa, and to all our citizens.

All our research points to an immense hunger amongst our people for information which they can use to improve their lives and information which empowers them to have an effective say in governing. It shows too that this hunger is being inadequately met, for various reasons, by our media as presently configured.

In passing this Bill, this House will create a framework for a partnership of government and media that will create more implements with which the people of South Africa can plough the fields of freedom.

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

Madame Speaker,

I would like to thank the Portfolio Committee and its Chairperson, Nat Kekana, for all the work from their side to ensure that the Bill is in the House today.

The Bill has benefited substantially from the legislative experience and wisdom of the Portfolio Committee. The Public Hearings which the Committee held, both on the Draft Position Paper and the Bill itself, made it possible for all those interested in media development to play a part in this initiative.

The Bill is the outcome of all these inputs and those of many others who participated in the process. I wish to thank all those who have contributed to this democratic initiative.

Minister in The Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)


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