Monday, 11 July 2011

SA gov's take on MEDIA in South Africa in 1995

Thami Mazwai
Editor: Enterprise Magazine

Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, honourable members of and officials of Government, colleagues, comrades, ladies and gentlemen.

The ownership and control of the media is a topic which does not the get the attention it deserves; and this is simply because the whole of the South African media would be on trial. We cannot expect it to indict itself.

Yet, the "ownership and management of the media, and what is necessary to ensure diversity", is a crucial issue. After all, the media must underpin our democracy and play a crucial role in protecting, consolidating and entrenching the freedoms we fought for and now enjoy. However, do all South Africans have easy access to the media. Does it reflect all shades of opinion? Does it encourage debate on sensitive issues? Does the African way of life, for instance customs, get the respect given to the western way of life? Is it gender sensitive in line with our new national outlook? Does its composition and management structure reflect the demographics of the country and gender?

Obviously, the answer is NO to these questions. The media is top heavy white male in all respects. As this impacts negatively on our democracy, it must be corrected. However, just as the de concentration of the media is crucial if our democracy is to blossom, how the Government deals with this is ultra sensitive. It will show how far committed it is to democracy. Furthermore, it is also going to determine how the world will see and relate to us. By extension, and this is what investors are interested in, is our political miracle going to continue?

In short, if the Government intervenes directly in the control and management of the media, it will destroy whatever confidence the outside world has in us. In addition, ripples of fear will grip our communities as it will mean the first step towards authoritarian rule will have been taken.
On the other hand, the Government cannot leave the situation as is, and hope it will right itself. I have suggested some strategies at the end of this presentation, but let us first look at the issue globally. The mainstream media, like many other institutions in the country, is still, consciously and unconsciously, clinging to the past where white was white. Appropriate steps have to be taken to make it more South African.

If we are serious about change the media, the window people use to look into the country and at themselves, should tell the story of change. To do this effectively, it itself must be this new South Africa when we look at its ownership structure and staff levels.

Unfortunately, it is not so. Yesterday's major players, the top heavy white male structures, are still today's principal actors. Let us also recall they are the people who looked the other way or gave in when the NP tightened its screws on the media. Although our conference if not about the past, we, must continually look at it as we move into the future. The point we must note is that because the media was white, it could not go all the way in fighting a white government enjoying the support the white community. Hence, its commitment to freedom and justice in general, and press freedom in particular, was suspect.

For instance, journalists employed by major groups could not belong to the ANC, PAC or AZAPO, but were allowed to be members of the NP, PFP or CP. Journalists found guiltily of so-called terrorism charges were not given their jobs back on release from jail, yet white journalists who served time in the SADF had their jobs guaranteed. In fairness, I must mention that journalists detained without trial or who were banned, were kept on staffs and paid their salaries. The point I am making is that these newspapers were part of the attitudes of white South Africa, after the staff and management was white. They could not see things differently from the rest of the population.

In 1977 we went on a march protesting the detention of black journalists. None of our white colleagues joined us even though they covered the march. On release, our bosses penalised us and deducted two days leave, the days we were in jail. Yet our march was about Press Freedom, keeping journalists under lock and key is an infringement of the freedom of the Press. Instead of backing us, our employers, because they were part of white South Africa body and soul, punished us.

However, some white journalists challenged the system, but there were too few of them. And, ultimately, towards from the mid to the late eighties the mainstream media, shamed by the bravery of the alternative media and the fact that Cosatu and the UDF were challenging the state of emergency regulations and media restrictions, joined the fray.

Looking into the future, and taking into account the topic before us, let me put my views in perspective, so that some of my argument can be better understood. When our organisations went into talks with Government in the Codesas and multi-party talks, there was a tacit understanding that just as it was important to avoid further bloodshed, the demands of the oppressed that the country be transformed would not be shelved.

Thus, the political process, which was driven by blacks, led to the elections of April 27, demands for socialism and radical change were watered down as blacks accepted that change will be gradual and fit in with what the country could afford.

To our dismay, most white organisations have nit-picked on change and there is by and large no commitment to transformation.

Business organisations either talk black economic empowerment and affirmative action and do nothing; or outrightly discredit these and talk of the best man for the job. This also applies to the media. To get a clearer picture of what is happening, or not happening, let us look at the media under three headings: ownership by blacks; blacks in senior positions; programmes to fast track blacks into senior positions.

Ownership: Blacks do not have any mentionable stake, if any, in the four major publishing houses; Nasionale, Perskor, Times Media Limited and Argus, now Independent Newspapers. The then Argus company unbundled the Sowetan and sold it to Dr Nthato Motlana's Corporate Africa. However, It still owns % of the Sowetan and controls the printing and distribution of the publication. In short, the Sowetan is not completely black-owned and controlled paper in the sense in which we want it.

Let us stay on the Argus a little longer. Soon after unbundling the Sowetan, Anglo American, the ultimate owners of Argus, then unbundled further and sold The Star and other titles to O'Reilly.
Amazingly, Motlana, and any other black group for that matter, were not offered The Star and these other titles, or offered stakes in them. These titles and the printing and distribution operations were sold Tony O'Reilly for a song. I have no doubt that Anglo did not want a block of major and influential newspapers to fall into black hands for the usual stereotyped reasons we are always fed. Hence, when it sold the Argus stake in TML to O'Reilly, it still did not give blacks a slice of the action.

A black group that wanted to buy the Cape Times was even frustrated. Times Media Limited, also owned by Anglo, and part of Omni Media, is now on the sellers block. Anglo says it wants the buyers to be blacks.

On the other hand the same Anglo has been denying persisting reports that the Financial Mail and Business Day will be hived off and sold off independently to an overseas organisation or one headed by the editor of the FM. I desperately want to believe these denials and hope that all of Omni will fall into black hands. But, information I have is that the leaks in the press upset certain semi completed deals, and these deals did not have black payers. Let us wait and see.
Naspers and Perskor do not have any black share holding worth talking about and talk is that they will be selling some titles to blacks. But it is still talk.

When we look at the complement of blacks in management levels of newspapers in the four groups, the position is as follows; there are only two editors in the Western Cape to about 15 whites; there are three black editors in the Eastern Cape to about 15 whites; there are five black editors in Natal to about 18 whites; and in Gauteng the situation is hardly any better. At the Star we have four blacks to about 20 whites. At Times Media Limited three blacks to about 20 whites in several titles.

Perskor and Naspers do not have black editors save in their blacks only publications. Just as most black editors are also at the Sowetan. Furthermore, 80% of black editors in mainstream newspapers are on junior to middle management positions.
When we come to programmes for the development of blacks, there is nothing definite in all groups save a hunt and miss situation. The last time the Argus had a major initiative was when Doug Band got Joe Thloloe and a number of us countrywide overseas secondments and training. This has fizzled out.

Why did I give the above scenario? The answer is simple, for as long as the decision makers in newspapers are predominantly white, those newspapers will reflect white aspirations, biases, values or attitudes.

Says Robert S Lichter in his book, "The Media Elite":.. Journalists are especially important because they help depict reality for the rest of society. They do so through the everyday decisions of their craft: what story is worth covering? How much play should it get? What angle should it be given? What sources are trustworthy and informative? The unavoidable preconceptions journalists bring to such decisions help determine what images are available to their audience: Thus the problem is not simply to subjugate bias to ideals of objectivity and professionalism. 

More broadly, it is to recognize the inevitable role that values and perspectives play in shaping news judgement". Lichter further states: "Journalists perspectives on society have obvious relevance to their work". Hence our newspapers, mainly staffed by whites, are so Euro-centric.
Walter Leppman of the New York Times, referring to the coverage of the Soviet Union at the time, sums news coverage up when he says: "The news as a whole is dominated by the hopes of men who compose the news organisation. In the large news about Russia, it is a case of seeing not what was but what men wished to see.., the chief censor and the chief propagandist were hope and fear in the minds of reporters and editors".

The phrase "hopes and fears" sums up the nature of news in our media. For instance, when newspapers first reported on the RDP white journalists questioned what it would cost; while blacks saw it as a major development that would benefit our country. The announcement of retrenchments in the civil service, the change of the guard at the SABC, the changes in the police force, the appointment of diplomats, the furore over Dr Fanus Schoeman, the changes at SAfm etc, all evoked reactions that left the reader with no doubt as to which community the journalist came from. 

Mainstream newspapers tend to be protective of the interests of the white community. After all, the management and reporting staff are predominately white. And, for many this is done in the unconscious. There are two types of racists, one that has set ideas and is deliberately negative about blacks, and the one that is not aware he is being racist but innocently sees life as it was presented to him at white schools, the NGK churches, white universities and the old TV1. Such innocents predominate in the media.

Three weeks ago host of a radio talk back show passionately referred to circumcision as done in some black communities as "barbaric". Many of us are concerned about the abduction and forced circumcision of boys and men. But we hardly use the word barbaric. I have no doubt that the passionate "it is barbaric" is the outburst that tells us what the man thinks of blacks in general.
Comrade President, black journalists also see events through the eyes of their community. Our perspective are also shaped by our background and environment. We are as guilty of being unconsciously biases as our white colleagues. Unfortunately for us, because of the power structure in the media, our perspectives, and therefore those of the black community, are in the periphery. This is the reality of South Africa.

There is therefore no doubt the concentration of the media in a few white hands, distorts the message. Hence, as far as we blacks are concerned there is only a relative difference between a media owned by a minority and one that is Government owned. People who are against government control of the media, should, in view of the principle involved, that of distorting the message, also be against control of the media by the minority. 

Where do we go from here?
Before making my suggestions, it is important that we look at Harvey Tyson's views on how the media conglomerates ensure that there is no interference with Press Freedom. In his book "Editors under fire" he says: "Balance is the key-balance between editorial and proprietorial interests. It is a balance easily upset by dominating personalities on the one side or the other. And the balance swings wildly out of kilter, even in liberal democratic communities, when a newspaper's existence comes under threat for economic reasons. 

It happened to one of the most famous newspaper in the world, Times of London in 1983. It happened in the USA in 1988 when five editors of major publications including Bill Kovach of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and Katherine Fonnong of the Christian Science Monitor, quit because of pressure from management. The balance between providing information and providing profits was swinging away from editors towards business managers in these and many other publications in the 1980s".

While the logic of his argument makes sense, it hardly reflects our situation. For us maintaining the balance between editorial and proprieteral interests is academic. The implication is that we must accept the status quo as fait accompli, and, given time and patience, the media will reflect the diversity it should.

It means while others are already reaping the benefits of Codesa, we must wait until the cows come home for our piece of the pie or for the attainment of the larger picture. In any case, the de concentration of the media is also in the interest of major groups themselves. Blacks still see the Star, Pretoria News, Business Day etc as white newspapers. 

When these newspapers criticise Government, they say "it is the usual white newspapers criticising our Government". As these newspapers are the mainstay publications for the country, it limits the effectiveness.

Providing news, is not an exact science. It is a process driven by subjective judgement. Attitudes, education, background, Iikes and dislikes, hopes and fears, knowledge of the subject, knowledge of the reader and many other factors all come into play.

Our media must be de concentrated and made more South African. How do we do this? We have already identified our problem areas and they are, no black shareholders in the major groups, lack of senior editors in mainstream newspapers; and lack of development programmes to fast track blacks in the media. In short, there is little affirmative action in the media. How do we get it going?

The dangers of direct government involvement have been explained and I suggest the following strategies:
1 To ensure that mainstream major groups of groups of newspapers offer stakes to blacks, they appoint blacks to senior editorial positions or prepare them for these positions; and programmes are set in places to develop and fast tract blacks in the media industry, the Government must not place its advertising, and that of organisations it has an interest in such as parastatal, in newspapers or groups of newspapers that do not commit themselves and implement the three above. 

The government spends R150 million and the provincial governments and parastatals bring this to close to a billion. The millions government, provincial governments and parastatals spend in advertising must be used to develop diversity in South Africa's media. Black publications and those media groups that are implementing affirmative action and black economic empowerment policies must benefit. It goes without saying that black groups must also reflect the country's demographics at ownership and management levels. This strategy has been tried, and with success, right here in South Africa. When TV was introduced and it started eating into the advertising cake, the four major newspaper groups were given a TV licence, now known as M-Net, now an international and continental players of note. This was affirmative action and empowerment in action, let it also be applied with blacks.

2. Legislation that prohibits or regulates vertical integration must be introduced to enable free and fair competition. Newspapers groups must not own distribution or printing companies, or use these to benefit the group newspapers to the detriment of competing titles. It must be ensured the industry does not create monopolies. Media monopolies are anathema to Press Freedom.

3. There must be a limit on the stake foreigners can have in our media. Under no circumstances must they have a controlling interest. This already applies in broadcasting, it must now be extended to the print media.

3. Legislation should be introduced to restrict cross share holding, inter-locking directorships, trade agreements and cartels between major media groups. These militants against smaller organisations, make entry expensive and create monopolies or semi monopolies. In addition, horizontal expansion must be monitored to ensure that groups do not straddle sub-sectors in the industry.

4. The Government should fund or help finance struggling media organisations owned by Africans, Coloureds or Indians. These are crucial to diversity the media, and need a kick-start. Many new black radio stations face closure it they are not helped, just as community newspapers are struggling. However, the Government must not dictate policy, but must set up an industry committee independent of Government that will protect its interests and ensure that money is not used for other purposes, and will also see to it that these organisations run their businesses in such a way that in five years time they will be weaned off Government support. The programme would obviously have a sunset clause.

5 The Government, or IBA, must not allow the major groups into radio as the many small radio stations being set up will be at risk against competition from the big boys. Regarding TV, the many consortiums vying for the one licence on offer must be scrutinised to ensure that a licence is granted to an operator with true black participation. May I, in closing off, state that black organisations are watching Government attitudes and strategies on affirmative action and black economic empowerment with concern. Helping blacks into the media industry is crucial in the development of our country as it will allow South Africans to talk to each other as equals. "A good newspaper is a nation talking to itself," as a New York Times editor once said.
Let us have an industry with players that facilitate dialogue across racial, cultural, tribal, political, religious, social and other divides. This will be democracy in action.

Thank You
Paper delivered at Conference of Communicators, Arniston 25 - 27 August 1995

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