South Africa: The Media, Mandela's Legacy and Transformation

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interview

It is undeniable that the company needed to come home and that a local owner needed to buy the newspaper group, but the manner in which the group has been bought out, the lack of transparency when the initial sale took place and now this particular incident I think sounds even louder alarm bells about the nature of the owner that Independent Newspapers has at the moment and the extent to which that owner is actually independent of the current ruling elite of the day.

Also having said that I think we need to look at what's happening in our media system more broadly because it seems like that there are larger and larger chunks of the media system that are becoming aligned to the ruling elite and the ruling faction of the ruling party. And one has to just think about the SABC in order to see the extent to which political control has actually manifested itself in the media system.

The three top management officials of the SABC, the chief operating officer, the chief financial officer and the chief executive officer are all political appointments and that should worry us particularly because the chief executive officer is also the editor in chief of the SABC. Also recently, the chief operating officer has been put in charge of news and current affairs at the SABC.

So what that means is that there is a direct line drawn between the Minister of Communications on the one hand and the editorial content of the SABC on the other, and that obviously lends itself to greater political control of the SABC. The fact that we've seen a drift towards a more positive news, a quota even, a 70% positive news.

The so-called sunshine news.

The so-called Sunshine news ... I think is all an indication of the fact that there is a drift within our media system towards greater, either direct or indirect, government control.

And that should concern us because given the kind of society that we are the moment and the huge challenges that we face given the growing social contradictions in the country that are giving rise to I think protests in many parts of the country. Given what happened in Marikana, for instance, last year I think it's becoming increasingly evident that social contradictions are growing. And because of that I think the temptation is there for government to curtail what are increasingly loud and critical voices including in the media.

So this drift towards greater state control I think should really worry us.

But also I think the media system is caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock being greater state control and the hard place being greater corporate control of the media.

We still have a highly consolidated media system. We can see it particularly in the press where one large group dominates the press - Media24 followed by four smaller groups. And I think that' unhealthy because I think it does reduce, inevitably, the diversity of voices in society.

And I think what we do have in the country is the nature of the media transformation that has taken place has given rise to a highly unequal media system. The kind of social inequalities that we see in broader society I think reproduce themselves in and through the media. And we can also see those inequalities structuring how the post apartheid media system has come into being.

You could almost characterize it as being like a funnel where the higher up the funnel you go, the greater plurality of media there is and the more people in upper income groups have access to this greater plurality of media.

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