SOUTH AFRICAN MEDIA LANDSCAPE ESSAY
The South African Radio landscape falls within a structure comprised of three tiers, namely: public service radio stations, commercial radio station and community radio station. Each of these tiers is carefully regulated by an independent broadcasting regulatory authority called the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). In March 1994, the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act of 1993 was passed and came into effect (http://www.icasa.org.za/). The purpose of this was to ensure a sense of national unity by providing access to all citizens, encouraging freedom of speech and democratising the airwaves. In doing so, broadcasting in South Africa can be focused on building a better nation that strives for unity in every sense of the word – although this may prove to be very difficult to achieve. Thus the introduction of the three distinct tiers within broadcasting, serve a particular function in fulfilling this concept of nation-building. The South African broadcasting corporation (SABC) serves as the Public service radio broadcaster in South Africa and functions to enforce democracy in the interest of the public. The SABC is owned by the state and gains financial income through means of advertising and licensing fees (www.southafrica.info/about/media/radio.htm). Commercial radio stations differ in that they aim to provide an audience to advertisers and in so doing generate capital. These are generally privately owned and the content is commercially driven and specific to a targeted audience. The third tier houses commercial radio stations who aim to created an identifying unity among members of a specific community and in so doing aids to the formation of the democratic principles of the country as a whole. These stations focus on development, transformation and reconciliation with the communities in building a brighter future despite any historical struggles. Community Radio functions on financial support through sponsorships and relies on the voluntarism of community members in the creation of the content which is broadcasted.
There is a very distinct contrast between the two types of institutional frame of news production within SAfm, the public service broadcaster and Bush, a community radio station. The institutional framework within which each tier falls, operates according to differing policies in terms of news generation and production based on demographic factors as well as the audience each aims to serve.
Public service broadcasting is often thought to be subjected to the rule of government and the intentions it has to regulate the kind of content which is broadcast by the SABC. This is however a huge misconception. The SABC falls under the regulation of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and the standards it upholds, and in doing so, caters to the needs of the majority living in South Africa. The SABC is only accountable to the National Government in terms of financial matters however a new amendment has been passed to the Public Service Broadcasting Bill for the establishment of a Public Service Broadcasting Fund which “covers funding for the public broadcaster, community broadcasting, content development, signal distribution for community broadcasting (radio and TV” (http://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/15/44108.html). Thus as the public service broadcaster, the SABC should aim at all times to bridge the gaps created by the suppression of the past in terms of cultural heritage and diversity amongst the nation. “Media audiences are highly fragmented, both in terms of unequal access to material resources, and in terms of the different cultural tastes, interests and competencies which distinguish social groups” (Barnett, C.). Such fragmentations are as a result of the scars of the past maintaining an impact on social development. As a public service broadcaster, it is then the duty of the SABC to ensure that the content that is produced caters and aids in the building of a democracy, that which unifies the nation as a whole and constructs news and current affairs coverage which is fair and objective. SAfm falls under the tier of Public Service Broadcasting. It caters to an audience which is older due to the news and business updates appealing to those who form part of the working class. Thus the audience is drawn from the LSM 7-10 and the core listeners fall within the age groups of 30 – 49 years of age. SAfm does not aim specifically at any particular race through the creation of their content but rather aim to be inclusive of all citizens irrespective of their race – gaining an audience listenership of 61% Black and 39% White. The station has a very broad listenship and reaches across 95% of the media landscape in South Africa but it particularly targets a culturally rich and financially affluent market – although the station reaches far beyond this.
In comparison to the Public Service Broadcasting tier is that of Community Radio or more popularly known as Bush Radio. “The advent of community radio is South Africa is one of the less publicized but direct outcomes of the country’s transition to multi-racial democracy in 1994” (Olorunnisola, A.A. 2002:126). The purpose of Community Radio is to focus on nation-building within a democratic society, much like that of the Public Service Broadcaster,, however at a more ‘community’ orientated and personal level, as opposed to the approach taken by the SA at a national level. These licensed community radio stations are based locally within specific communities and therefore the broadcasting content lies within the needs and interests of the community. These stations function solely on the support of the community members both in terms of content and production as well as finance. The station appeals to volunteers who are willing to learn the skills of news creation and production in accordance with the policies adopted by community radio. The content produced is locally driven and serves to inform the community members of issues by which they are directly affected. Most of the issues Community Radio deals with is that of the social and political sphere. Broadcasting in three different languages, Xhosa, English and Afrikaans, takes place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Community Radio also reaches out into the community through various Community Upliftment programmes to teach people about broadcasting. Three key focal areas of community radio involves development, transformation and reconciliation. Bush Radio received its first funding from a German based funding Organisation, Frederich Ebert Stiftung (FES). FES donated a fully equipped station to Bush Radio in1993 which encouraged the station to consolidate training making them the leading trainer and lobbyist in the establishment of community Radio as a prominent tier in the South African Media Landscape. Due to the nature of the broadcasting, Community Radio is often referred to as ‘participatory communication, community radio acts in a ‘kaleidoscopic’ nature, allowing content to be changed and shaped according to whom ever is creating and producing it (Olorunnisola, A.A. 2002:132). This then forms the very essence of this tier of broadcasting in that it deals directly, via a ‘hands-on’ approach will social issues which are real and actively exist within local communities in South Africa.
Due to the significant influence of the institutional contexts of the SABC as a public service broadcaster as well as that of a community station - the editorial policies of both of these distinct tiers mould the generation and production of news in serving the objectives of each station. One of the most significant factors in bulletin composition and story treatment is the nature of the audience and well as the function of the station. The public service broadcaster functions to enhance nation building in a democratic society, through the broadcasting of content that is free and fair and appeals to the national audience and thus the news production deals particularly with issues which affect the typical ‘South African’ on a day-to-day basis. Issues such as politics, financial interests, crime and so forth are broadcast for the information of the general public. In comparison, the community radio station such as bush radio is inclusive of the community, within which it broadcasts, creating content that deals with local public interest and directly affect the lives of the audience. Here content will deal specifically with local politics, regional financial increases, crimes or social interests within the community and so forth, as apposed to occurrences which occur elsewhere in the country and prove to be news-worthy on stations such as SAfm due to the broad listenership.
“A public broadcaster is entrusted with the task of informing, educating and entertaining the public in an objective, holistic and impartial manner. It is the duty of public service broadcasters to empower its audience in terms of helping them understand their contexts and democratic rights” (Bechan, N. 1996:1). Thus the composition of the bulletin, as well as the treatment of stories, is based on interests that affect the nation in its entirety. It presents matters pertaining to government and politics, key figures in society, crime and national economics and the like. The composition of the line-up within a bulletin further enhance this aspect of Public Service Broadcasting, in the order is affected by those issues which pertain most to the targeted audience of SAfm. It aims presents these stories in the most objective manner possible to allow all subjects to be heard, however there are times when stories will take preference due to the nature of the editorial policies as well as the objectives SAfm aim to reach through their broadcasting. Such an instance can be seen in the reluctancy of SAfm to broadcast negative news about one of their main sponsorships because it is in the best interest of the station not to do so.
“…Communities have used radio to raise and address issues unique to their experiences. In particular, minority groups marginalised by the mainstream media find solace in the capabilities of community radio” (Olorunnisola, A. 2002:127). Community news relies heavily on the voluntarism of community members and through this are able to generate local interest. These volunteers often do not have access to mainstream media resources - used by public and commercial Radio Stations – such as SAPA, however their research online as well as their proactive community skills aid them in generating news content which speaks to the needs of their listeners. They are often stories which may only present one significant side of the story, based on the availability of resources to obtain the other sides, however, there is always an attempt to remain as objective as possible.
Public service broadcasters “have an obligation to serve the whole population…perhaps most importantly; they help ensure that viewers can access quality news programmes that include coverage of local, national and international events” (Mendel, T.). Probably the most significant role of the public service broadcaster SAFM is the creation of their content and the way in which they aim specifically to the upper working class in society and therefore may not entirely serve to promote nation-building in that their content is driven by capitalist values. This contrasts heavily to the role played by Bush Radio, where marginalised sectors of society are given the platform to produce content which may have been over-looked by stations such as SAfm due to their editorial policies and target markets. Thus community radio stations portray a significant role in a democratic society – in essence, they are providing a voice to the marginalised. It is then evident that these two distinct tiers play significant roles in creating a society that is involved in the production of the news content which is broadcast and further encourages nation-building as a policy for broadcasting within the South African Media Landscape.
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Through my blog I aim to compile a portfolio of work which speaks true to who I am as an aspiring Radio Journalist/Producer. My work displays my personal philosophies about the way in which I feel journalism should be approached and conducted. I also aim to step out of my comfort zone and reach out into the greater community in order to produce cutting edge journalism which provides a voice to marginalised groups and serves as a link between institutions and organisations and members within that community.