13 February 2013

South Africa: The Department of Communications Celebrates World Radio Day

press release

The Department of Communications will for the first time join the international community in celebration of the World Radio Day. The annual celebrations take place on the 13 February 2013 world-wide. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has declared World Radio Day.

The celebrations aim to celebrate the contribution of radio as a medium to promote access to information and freedom of expression. Governments, Broadcasters and stakeholders are expected the set up educational, cultural and public- awareness on that day, according to UNESCO resolution. The resolution was subsequently endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations at its 67th session in September 2012.

South Africa is a developing country with over 70% population widely spread in the rural areas. This makes radio a critical vehicle to communicate, educate and entertain. Over 150 radio stations exist in South Africa today representing public, community and commercial sectors.

Radio has a special place in the heart of all South Africans as it is the most accessible communication medium across the country. In South Africa it has played a vital role in the struggle for freedom and continues to play a role in the development of our country.

According to Nielsen Research, collectively, radio reaches 86% of the population weekly. Although the figure is relatively low compared to other developing countries such as Malaysia (93%), Singapore and India, we are still higher than China which is at 55.6% and other countries on the continent.

South Africa further presents the highest Time Spent Listening to a radio with an average South African listening for over 23 hours. Only Malaysia is second to South Africa at an average of over 20 hours. These figures underline the importance of radio to South Africa. It is on that basis that a huge investment has been made to the community radio sector since 1994 as evidenced by the following:

Department of Communications' Community Broadcasting Support Programme, which in addition to infrastructure roll out, content production funding and capacity-building offers signal distribution subsidies through the public signal distribution, Sentech. The department has recently approved a new signal distribution subsidy scheme, through the public signal distributor, Sentech.

This new subsidy will see signal distribution costs for community radio located in rural and nodal areas being covered in full by the department for the next four years. Urban based stations' costs, will only be covered up to 70%. Establishment of a dedicated agency for the sector, Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA). This year marks the 10 anniversary since the establishment of the agency.

Government, through the Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS), remains the biggest advertiser in the community radio sector covering up to 97% of the income generated by rural based stations. These figures exclude direct contribution by individual departments both at national and provincial levels, through sponsorships and direct advert placements.

Collectively, the above support mechanisms, arguably places South Africa's support for the community radio as the biggest in the world, outperforming even first world economies.

Legislatively, the growth of the sector can be attributed to a simple licensing regime provided by the Electronic Communications Act (no.36 of 2005). In line with this Act, ICASA has further implemented application fee exemption for community broadcasting services as class licences.

Undoubtedly, government support in the community radio sector this underlines the degree to which radio is acknowledged as a medium in the country to provide information, education and entertain communities.

This year marks the 20th anniversary since the first community radio station was established. As a whole the sector, accounts for 25% of the total radio audiences in the Republic (see SAARF RAMS, 11 August 2012). Work is currently underway to, jointly with key stakeholders, finalise the plan to celebrate this major achievement this year.

Why should we celebrate?

UNESCO's resolution to celebrate World Radio Day is both relevant and timely to South Africa given the thriving radio sector owing to favourable policies and support provided to it.

Notwithstanding the perennial challenges that continue to bedevil the sector such as governance, the scenario above underlines major achievements in terms of implementing community radio in South Africa, particularly in consideration of the following:

Community radio has provided opportunities to millions of communities who previously never had the means of communications in their languages,

Provided a learning ground to hone the skills for the youth in preparation for careers in the mainstream broadcasting sector. There are today companies that have been established by people from the sector while mainstream broadcasting is becoming increasingly dominated by people trained from the community radio sector,

Enhancement of diversity in South African broadcasting sector. The proliferation of community radio has catapulted South Africa amongst the leading countries in the world on diversity index,

Taking into account that no community radio existed prior to 1993, it is important to celebrate this major achievements to the contribution of community radio to development, particularly in relation to providing access to information concomitant with the Constitution of the Republic, diversity and skills developments.

Issued by: Department of Communications

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