GCIS budget vote 1999: Development communications - ensuring the right to speak

21 September 1999


Chapter Five of the Comtask Report placed development communication and media diversity squarely on the GCIS agenda.

It pointed out that the development challenges facing South Africa meant that the following objectives should be achieved in a relatively short period of time:

  • determining the information needs;
  • developing an infrastructure and disseminating information in a manner which is appropriate and timely;
  • and ensuring the use of innovative and non-traditional means.

In its recommendations on Media Diversity it concluded: " There is a need to embark on a number of initiatives to increase media diversity, such as:

  • the promotion of and advising on a subsidy system for the funding of media diversity;
  • the promotion of and advising on support mechanisms for community and print broadcast media;
  • the exploration of mechanisms, including legislation, to facilitate access by all print media to a fair and equitable distribution system;
  • advising on the development of partnership arrangements with sectors involved in the delivery of information at community level."

In our briefing to the Portfolio Committee earlier this year we admitted progress in both these areas - development communications and media diversity - had not been as rapid as we would have wanted it to be. As the CEO of GCIS pointed out then: " If the organisation erred on the side of trying to define this strategy more than acting around it, we hope that the next financial year will see great strides being made in this area."

We are pleased to inform this meeting that the GCIS has made significant progress since.

MDA process

GCIS works within the same context that faces our nation a whole, namely that of meeting three enormous and simultaneous challenges: democratisation; redress through reconstruction and development; and successful integration as a winning nation in a globalised world.

Within this context GCIS naturally places special emphasis on development and on broadening access to information and to the means of communication.

This goes for the content of what we communicate, so that we help empower and mobilise South Africans to play an active part in improving their own lives.

And it goes for two of our major current priorities, aimed at opening access on the part of those previously excluded to communication with government and to the means for articulating views, interests and aspirations.

The one is the establishment of a countrywide network of Government Information Centres, within the framework of the Multi-Purpose Community Centres.

And the other is the establishment of a Media Development Agency.

What we seek to achieve through the establishment of a Media Development Agency is included in what defined the founding consensus of our transition to democracy.

It is that our media, like all our other institutions, ought to come to reflect the full diversity of our society.

And it is that a critical part of achieving this goal is to promote access to the media on the part of the majority of South Africans who were previously excluded or whose access was seriously hindered. Access in this regard may mean ownership; membership of media professions; or availability of a vehicle that gives expression to one’s perspectives, interests and aspirations

When the GCIS was established, the government took the view that the history of our country is such that we need an agency to promote these goals and processes, and specifically a Media Development Agency.

To this end the Policy Directorate which GCIS included in its new structures was assigned as one of its major responsibilities the process leading to the establishment of the MDA. Now that that structure is on the way to being fully staffed, the process has picked up speed. It is moving along two takes. On the one hand GCIS is keeping itself informed of the views being formulated on this matter within the media industry and amongst NGOs.

We have been working closely with the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and the National Community Media Forum (NCMF). The two organisations have been conducting hearings into the question of media diversity and how this can be achieved. This process began with a national seminar in July and will be followed up with regional workshops.

GCIS addressed a workshop called up by these organisations with the Print Media Association of SA where the establishment of a Print MDA was discussed. These various institutions have agreed that the GCIS led process should provide the umbrella for their initiatives.

And on the other hand it is leading a governmental process across several departments to formulate a set of positions on the various options and issues which will define the character; funding; scope and authority of an agency whose task it is to promote development and diversity within the media of South Africa.

The key government initiatives represented were the Film and Video Trust of the Dept of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST); Community Broadcasting Initiative of the Dept of Communications (DoC) and the Media Policy Unit of the GCIS. It was clear from these discussion that a mechanism which is sustainable in the long term is necessary to ensure the development of media.

The intention is that the results of this process will be put out probably in the next six months in a paper for public discussion and in particular to receive comment from media organisations and other interested sectors and organisations.

Following the period of consultation and public discussion a final proposal will be drawn up and submitted to the Cabinet, so that it can then proceed to Parliament for any necessary legislation or policy measures.

We are seeking the assistance of donors to fund this process, both for input of experts and for the public consultation.

There is no reason that an MDA should not be in place in the next 18 months.

Development information

GCIS has gone somewhat further down the road in this endeavour. The next speaker will elaborate on a study GCIS has conducted into the information needs of the South African public - very much in line with the recommendations made by Comtask. The relations with Provincial Communicators continues to improve. It was decided at a joint meeting to formalise the largely informal relationship the GCIS regional offices have had with their provincial counterparts. This would ensure that expectations and commitments are clearly spelt out.

The partnership between the SA Post Office continues to strengthen with the Post Office providing a cost effective distribution service. The GCIS one person Radio Unit continues providing an excellent service to many govt. departments.

The most dramatic movement has been around the Multi Purpose Community Centres (MPCCs). Benjamin has provided a useful definition of MPCCs which has served to anchor our approach. It is "a structure which enables communities to manage their own development by providing access to appropriate information, facilities, resources, training, and services. The center can offer a range of services as defined by the needs of the community."

The experience of other countries point out that the success of MPCCs is affected by the degree of co-ordination among the different spheres of government as well as among depts. The GCIS has been following two paths in the establishment of MPCCs.

Firstly our 9 regional offices are being restructured. Instead of having these offices being based in urban areas, these regional offices will be scaled down and replaced by 46 offices called Government Information Centres working at district level. It is envisaged that the location of the GICs will coincide with where the MPCCs will be set up. In this way overhead costs will be reduced.

The second path has been the co-ordination of those depts. and govt. agencies involved in establishing local level information centres. This has meant the involvement of Dacst, the Depts. of Trade and Industry, Welfare, Provincial and Local Government, Sports, and Communications as well as the Universal Service Agency, Telkom, the Post Office, CSIR, the Development Bank, and HSRC.

These structures are represented on Project MPCC and there is agreement on collaborating on the establishment of the MPCCs. The team working on this is collecting data on where the different organisations intend establishing their centres and with the help of the Geographical Information System (GIS) working out what the optimal locations would be.

It is hoped that five of these MPCCs can be piloted in the next six months. While the agencies which already have begun rolling out their programmes have not been officially asked to halt their work they are nevertheless agreed that once the research has been completed implementation will follow a more rational path.

It is envisaged the GICs shall be responsible for the following areas:

  • translating the development communications approach to the specific needs of that district;
  • establishing distribution networks;
  • identifying the information needs of the communities in that district.

It is envisaged that joint strategising forums will be created consisting initially of GICs and Provincial Communicators but which could begin expanding to encompass local government whereby planning and further clarification of roles in specific campaigns can be aired.

Presentation by Yacoob Abba Omar: Deputy Chief Executive Officer, GCIS