Media transformation too slow: R2K

By Drum Digital
03 May 2012

The pace of media transformation in South Africa needs to be quickened to ensure society's interests are served, the Right2Know (R2K) Campaign said on Thursday.

Spokeswoman Julie Reid said in a statement R2K would meet with Parliament's media transformation indaba to discuss ownership, staff and content.

"We will continue to argue that the definition of transformation must move beyond race and gender profiles in ownership."

It was important that both commercial and non-commercial models of print media ownership were introduced to ensure the press was not dominated by the economic elite.

"We should not have to choose between media beholden to political interests and media that are beholden to corporate interests. We need more media, not less; more voices, not fewer," Reid said.

Cost-cutting in news production meant journalists carried greater workloads and, as a result, spin doctors were granted greater influence over news content.

In terms of broadcast media, there had been noticeable improvements since 1994 with the introduction of commercial and community media; however, new problems had arisen.

Ownership of the commercial sector was dominated by large media companies, making it difficult for others to break into this market, and community media faced governance and funding problems.

"Our once vigilant regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), has failed to regulate and monitor broadcasters' licence conditions, and allowed our public broadcaster in the main to serve up a diet of repeats and cheap foreign content," Reid said.

The information and communication technologies (ICTs) market had created new opportunities for the exchange of information. However, transformation policy was needed to realise the democratising potential of the internet.

"Most notably, we have an effective duopoly of mobile phone companies, whose profiteering make mobile internet access too expensive for the majority of people, who use prepaid airtime and data," Reid said.

Present airtime and data cost arrangements effectively meant that "poor users cross-subsidise rich users".

Reid said R2K was encouraged by a discussion document on communications released by the African National Congress, which called for ICTs to be regarded as basic utilities, similar to water and electricity. This would help ordinary citizens to produce, as well as consume, media and create greater diversity of content, she said.

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