Why a need for niche radio?

2013-06-20 00:00

ONE of the benefits of having grown up and lived in Johannesburg and then moving to Pietermaritzburg, was that I got to appreciate how Gauteng-centric South African media is.

It is as though the thinking is: if it is happening in Gauteng, particularly in Johannesburg, it has to be interesting to everyone else in the country, regardless of where they might be.

For example, you are unlikely to meet anyone anywhere in the country who does not have an opinion on e-tolls, despite the fact that they will mostly (of course, not exclusively) affect Gauteng motorists.

And so the launch of PowerFM in Gauteng this week has been hailed as a huge moment in the history of media ownership in South Africa. National newspapers have dedicated lots of column space to the new arrival to talk radio.

One of the issues of interest in the new station has been that it is the first commercial talk-radio station that will allow for what is generally referred to as the “black perspective”.

Set aside for a moment that PowerFM is a Gauteng radio station. At issue for me is that 19 years into the creation of a non-racial democracy in South Africa, there is still a deep-seated need for a radio station that provides for a “black perspective”.

I am not so naïve that I don’t appreciate that after a century of institutionalised racism and segregation, South Africans see themselves in terms of the racial classifications of the past.

In most instances, this is inevitable.

Privilege and poverty still have a colour and a sex, with blacks and women often being at the lower end of the social and economic ladders.

The station is not unique in its targeting of an identifiable population group, to use the lexicon of apartheid.

LotusFM, for example, unashamedly caters for the South African Indian community.

The same cannot be said to apply to stations such as Ukhozi or RSG, which cater for language groups rather than an ethnic group.

I do not have an issue with a radio station choosing to cater for the needs of a particular group.

Radio stations, as with all other enterprises, should be entitled to pick and choose market segments that they feel they can invest in, and receive returns on their investments. Such is the nature of a market economy.

What I find concerning is that the commercial gap exploited by these stations can easily be exploited by others for their own nefarious purposes.

There is an ever-thinning line between cultural pride and prejudice against those who are not members of the group.

We see this manifesting in many different ways.

After the Bafana Bafana defeat by Ethiopia, I picked up on social-media messaging suggesting that this was proof of how “they” could not get anything right.

In some instances, the message was less subtle than elsewhere.

So, as we celebrate the arrival of a new voice of blackness, we also have a duty to ask ourselves why this is necessary and, even better, ensure that others do not recognise the same gap, and seek to exploit it for ways that diminish, rather than promote, social and race cohesion.

•  Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is a freelance writer and former editor of The Witness.

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