Media Charter urgently needed - MTMSA

Wesley Douglas says white old boys club still pulling the strings at ownership, management and senior editorial level

At a meeting held with prominent academics, religious leaders and researchers in Cape Town today MTMSA convenor, Wesley Douglas, spoke on the need for a Media Charter in South Africa to ensure transformation in the 5th Estate and called for introspection within the media industry around the political alignment and agendas of media houses.

Mr Douglas was highly critical of the 5th estate and spoke with passion on the need for a charter to govern the media industry, failing which government regulation would need to be introduced.

Whilst addressing the crowd on around 200 people Mr Douglas said "Our media industry is in a transformational crises. Many other industries and sectors have seen the need for transformation and have been proactive in bringing real transformation through self-regulation, co-regulation, independent regulation and some state regulation. Many industries have seen the need for and benefit of a Transformation charter but the media industry has rejected this time and time again. The media industry is still one of the most untransformed industries in South Africa. It is unfortunate that our laws are written in a way that allows an entire industry to choose not to have a charter. Industries choose to establish transformation Charters when they face such enormous obstacles to change that they cannot be overcome by natural progression or be adequately addressed in a reasonable timeframe by generic scorecards and are drafted to ensure that those who have power due to unfair racial advantage under apartheid, don't continue to use their power to exclude black south Africans from entire industries.

The media houses and industry have instead been flying the flag for self regulation, but it is very clear from the  way the industry has failed to comply with even the basic B-BBEE Act in terms of ownership, employment equity, procurement parity, salary parity, enterprise development and CSI, that they are not capable of doing so."

"Organisations and bodies such as the Pint and Digital Transformation Task Team (PDMTTT), the Press Freedom Commission (PFC) and the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) have done a lot of work grappling with the issues of transformation but none of them have the teeth to enforce compliance or transformational change.

Without a will to transform from within the media industry both government and civil society's hands are tied. This is an unacceptable stand off between the desire to protect civil liberties such as freedom of speech and the continued racial totalitarianism found in the ownership and managerial structures of South African media houses."

"Self regulation in the Media industry is not possible in South Africa at this moment. As much as we want to believe that our press and media are giving us fair and independent views written and edited by people without a political bias or agenda the truth is that we would be tragically naive and gullible to believe that."

"One need only look at the past years media coverage to find a political slant which is clearly pro-opposition and anti-government in nature. MTMSA is currently doing a research study which analyses media content over the past two decades and will track content trends from individual media houses and transformational issues over the past twenty years."

Mr Douglas went on to say" This study will be able to help us show the public the real face of media in south Africa and expose the high levels of political interference from media bosses and victimisation of black politicians and businessmen. The truth is that transformation from content and industry point of view is a long way off. Not wanting a charter shows the media industry as unwilling to change, striving to keep the ownership and management of media houses white and to continue to produce content which conforms to their neo-liberal and anti-black government agenda. In short, our media industry is as untransformed and racially biased as the day the ANC was banned and black South Africans were told to carry the dom pass."

Speaking on the election build up and the media coverage around the elections, Mr Douglas said "We find ourselves at the end of a very long and very volatile election campaign year and looking back over the past 12 months we can see trends and themes emerge from our media that have been clearly strategized and orchestrated to produce a certain outcome and pressure in this election. It seems as if many practitioners in the media industry itself have become actors on the stage of South African politics with their own narrative and grand agenda."

Mr Douglas went on to say "Many in the media industry are claiming that they are independent enough to comment on south Africa in an independent way but the truth is that south Africa is still suffering under the throes of apartheid era thinking and journalists are becoming more and more bold about being openly anti-government and anti-black. The industry as it stands based on real facts and statistics is too white and too male, which puts it totally out of step with broader society which influences what we, the black masses, see, read and hear from these media houses. How can they even begin to think that we will believe that they are telling us the truth or showing us an unbiased opinion when they do not even know who we are, share our experiences or reflect a diversification of our views."

"The majority of the owners of these media houses, their senior managerial staff and senior correspondents come from privileged backgrounds and private predominantly white schools and meet in old boys clubs and on golf courses to discuss the issues of the day from their perspectives. How can they possibly claim to represent and reflect South African society fairly when everything about them screams racial bias? Transformation within the boardrooms has not matched that of the newsrooms and even the newsrooms; leave a lot to be desired. Maybe, like in the West, it is time for our media to nail their colours to the mast and openly declare their support for one party or another, one ideology or another, that way people can buy their products with the knowledge that they will get their news from a source they can trust and who reflects their views.

No more, now is the time for change. It's time to tackle the status quo and demand a media industry that is reflective of the diversity endemic to South African culture and the South African experience as lived by the majority. If that change will not come through the media industry itself then government, the people, and the consumer who buys the media industries products, must take up the cause for change and demand a media industry that is truly free and fair, 20 years on from the birth of our cherished democracy".

MATMSA continues to call for diversified content, for full disclosure and transparency on the state of transformation in relation to staffing, editorial fairness, procurement parity, BBBEE compliance levels and other aspects of transformation, from the Media industry. We stand for complete transformation of the media, and will not hesitate to name and shame, lobby and boycott the products of media houses who fail to move towards an agenda of transformation."

Statement issued by Wesley Douglas, Convener MTMSA, May 1 2014

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