Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi’s remarks at the sectoral Imbizo held in East London

26 September 2014

Thank you very much for responding to our invitation to discuss the issues pertinent to communications in your locality. Given the challenges that are facing our industry I thought it is important to reflect on the big issue of media transformation. It is key that in order to get the narrative of our country right we must be serious about changing both the management of the media and the ownership patterns of our media.

Since 1994 and the advent of democracy in South Africa, there has been significant change in media ownership in South Africa, particularly in the print media section. Before 1994 South African print media was divided into two distinct groups, the English press and the Afrikaans press. In turn, each group was divided in two whereby the Argus Group and Times Media Limited (TML) constituted the English press and the Afrikaans press consisted of Naspers and Perskor.

In 1995 the Irish Independent group gained control of the Argus Group and the following year the black empowerment consortium Johnnic Communications bought a controlling share in TML. In 1998 another change in ownership saw Caxton assume control over Perskor. Thus, even though the ownership of the South African print media has changed and become more racially diverse, it remains under the control of just four companies (This according to authors Wasserman & De Beer in 2005)

Over the last twenty years of democracy we have some more changing patterns of ownership. These can be characterised by the new ownership of the Independent Newspapers – breaking the traditional monopoly of the big four group and the entry into the market of the New Age. Owners of both have taken a conscious effort to go against the grain in a media landscape dominated by anti-establishment sentiment.

This of course is highly debatable and that is why we engage with you. In an open platform for engagement it is important that we can be frank with each other about how we see the situation and how we analyse it. There is a clear perception that the Media has distanced itself consciously from the national project in the name of public interest. We want to argue that being concerned about the public interests should not be the opposite of being a participant in national building.

The media’s transformation may of necessity mean that it will become so diverse as to influence communities to respond in a certain way to issues that confront society. These matters are being raised because it is important that community media not be seen as ignoring these ownership patterns. The community media sector must however be strengthened alongside transforming the commercial media sector as well.

Government on our side need to focus on ensuring that the community media sector is given the necessary support to flourish and not seen as secondary means of communicating with our people. Of course often we are driven by the traditional manner in which government is accustomed to communicate.

But let us take a step back and celebrate the fact that the fact that there are now close to 200 community radio stations and five community TV stations and countless community newspapers. One can describe this as a boom in the sector. The question that begs and answer therefore is whether our spending patterns on the community media matches this boom. We obviously need to look beyond the high level numbers and interrogate the listenership but even this is a two edged sword – if we do not support the community media because it has low numbers then the numbers will never grow.

It is however also a time to remind ourselves about what society should expect of such a sector. The quality of programming has to be interrogated. What platforms are being created by such programming for government. Is there enough collaboration between community media and government communicators to create the kind of programming that will keep community listenership interested?

There is a tendency to believe that with community media any content goes – this would be a big mistake and may show up a tendency to take community media for granted. I am told that there are some localities where the local mayors have not made enough effort to visit the local radio stations let alone determine what partnership or support they can lend an organisation that essentially is the voice of their constituency. Part of what we need to change when we speak of information revolution is to fix these basics.

Similarly there are community media organisations that have not bothered to reach out to state organs, departments of agencies that are intricately linked to their communities. This cannot be a sustainable model and has to change.
Community service is at the heart of community media. All community media must have a community and the intention to serve and build the community. In the community media environment, communities tend to be defined in terms of geography or interest.

A good community service is one that affirms and strengthens communities. It must also root its content in matters that are relevant and of interest to the community and finally it must encourage community discussions and debates.

Participation is crucial feature of community media; it is what distinguishes traditional media models, in which audiences are passive receivers of messages. ‘In the community media model, senders and receivers together create messages and meaning through participatory processes’. The question is whether our community media sector has lived up to these ideals or they have modelled themselves in line with the commercial media route? We need to ensure that the community radio sector is not merely seen as a shadow of the commercial sector but can be true to its unique mandate to empower communities.

The following matters need to be paid attention to urgently:
1) The review of the sector in terms of what entities/ radio stations for example are viable and sustainable. Are there entities that require intervention? Are there entities that face the danger of closure? How can these be assisted to stand of their feet again?

2) To assist local government to structure decent partnerships with community media. Various municipalities could work with media in such a way that they can become viable. This can be in a form of joint campaigns that involve the community. Municipalities must be encouraged to budget adequately for the use of community media. Investment in this media must not be scorned upon when the state has spent millions virtually underwriting huge commercial media.

3) To explore content and programming partnerships between agencies of the state including various entities reporting to the Ministry. The MDDA will be looking at up scaling funding for programme production support to various community media.

4) To explore partnerships between commercial and community media aimed at improving the question of the transformation of the media.

5) To explore how community media takes advantage of the question of social media in particular to popularise their content. The programme to migrate some of the print properties to

6) To explore the relationship between the media and the community development workers. These workers are closest to the community and in future will become increasingly the custodians of government information.

On our part as government, we are going through an exercise of policy review into which we expect you to play a major role. The National Communications Task Team has a work stream that specifically focuses on development communications. We need your input as the leaders in community outreach. We are determined that our communications must be focused on empowering our people this is crucial if we are to form a crucial part of defeating poverty and unemployment.

Finally Brand South Africa runs a programme called Play Your Part that calls on all South Africans to play their part in building a new society. I look forward to an active partnership between the community media sector and this programme to mobilise our communities to be active citizens. Your media must be a platform that can encourage such active citizenship. With discussions that have happened here today I am confident that we are headed for an era of cooperation rather than adversarial nature of engagement. Play your part is key in mobilising society around common causes where we are all set to gain.

I look forward to future engagements as we together shape the future of this sector.

Bongiwe Gambu
Cell: 082 714 9463

Issued by Department of Communications

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