Cape Town: Public sector media body representatives called for the print media to speed up transformation during an event in Parliament today commemorating Black Wednesday, when the apartheid state banned The World and Weekend World newspapers on October 19, 1977.
Jimmy Manyi, board member of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), pointed to the Print and Digital Media Transformation Task Team’s report released in September, which revealed that the key print media players had barely transformed their ownership and that media boards are still dominated by white males.
“The issue of ownership is not about to die. Even in the new codes, they are rated quite highly with 30 or so points,” said Manyi, who added that if the MDDA did not receive the appropriate funding, transformation would be limited.
He stressed that transformation in the media must not be carried out merely quantitatively – by for instance, increasing the number of black journalists in newsrooms – but also qualitatively, by ensuring that those black professional employed were able to effectively hold their own in the workplace.
Manyi commended the task team’s report for not calling for a specific sector Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) code for the media sector, but suggesting instead that the sector abide by the BEE codes of good practice.
He welcomed the suggestion, adding that the sector codes had up till now little to show for themselves. Eric Kholwane, the chairperson of the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on communications, said since 1994, transformation in the print media had been taking place “at snail’s pace”, unlike in the broadcasting media where transformation had been speedier, perhaps, he added, because of the broadcasting regulations in force.
He said more must be done to ensure that media is available in all the country’s languages, including sign language, to close the current “information gap” which existed, while the government ensured that broadband become available to all South Africans.
He said media freedom is the right of all South Africans, not just that of the media industry, adding that the right to freedom of speech is not above the right to dignity and the right to privacy.
Media workers had the duty to find the balance between these rights, he said, adding that raising concerns about the infringement of the right to dignity and privacy should not be seen as clamping down on media freedom.
“It is not a debate that is going to go away soon, and it shouldn’t be – it should start with us (media workers),” he said.
Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) chairperson Steven Mncube said communication must become a human right for all South Africans, as former president Nelson Mandela had wanted it to be.
More local content should be developed and featured in local radio and television stations, he said, adding that South Africa now had 129 community radio stations and five community television stations.
Joe Thloloe, director of the Press Council, said there is no obligation for the press to serve society, but that publications had committed themselves to ensuring that they strive for the truth and help benefit South Africans.
He said South Africa had come a long way from 1977 with the Press Council’s press code and adjudication process for press complaints, adding that the responsibility of South Africans is to ensure that the country does not slip back to that time again.