SA media ownership amongst most concentrated in world - SACP

Summit calls for immediate review towards mechanisms to regulate sector and ensure accountability

South African Communist Party

OR Tambo, Kempton Park, 3 October 2015


(OR Tambo Declaration)

The South African Communist Party co-ordinated and hosted, working together with media industry  interested stakeholders, a national media transformation summit in Kempton Park on 2 and 3 October 2015 to discuss challenges facing transformation in the media and to shape the future of the communications sector, under the theme South African Media: It’s time for a change

The Summit took place within the context of two decades into our democratic transition, but with the South African media sector that remains largely untransformed. The South African media is highly monopolized. The content lacks in diversity, reflective of our concentrated capitalist domination.

The General Secretary of the South African Communist Party, Comrade Blade Nzimande, as well as sector practitioners and independent experts gave presentations on the challenges and opportunities pertaining to media transformation, de-monopolization and diversity.

The summit commissions and plenary interrogated the challenges, recognising the importance of ensuring that the economic and social opportunities arising from the media industry, including, cutting edge technological advances, convergence and digitization are not a preserve for a few but harnessed to the benefit of all South Africans, particularly the historically oppressed, the workers and the poor who have been disadvantaged by many years of racist exploitation that in many ways remains persistent.

The summit recognizes the vital role the media has to sustain and develop democracy. It overwhelmingly agreed on the following key priorities that are fundamental to transformation if we are to achieve the constitutional goal of a prosperous South Africa:

1. Ownership;

2. Management control;

3. Media content diversity;

4. Accountable media;

5. Workplace transformation, skills and employment equity

6. Radical economic transformation

The summit adopted detailed resolutions informing a minimum programme encompassing all the priority areas.

Diversity and de-monopolization

The Media Charter adopted by the African National Congress in 1992, recognizes that diversity of media content is a cornerstone of democracy: “At the core of democracy lies the recognition of the right of all citizens to take part in society`s decision-making process. This requires that individuals are armed with the necessary information and have access to the contesting options they require to make informed choices. An ignorant society cannot be democratic.”

Ownership of South Africa’s media today is among the most concentrated in the world, despite the fact that all empirical research shows that ownership concentration negatively affects democracy, diversity of perspective and even digital access.

Urgent and decisive steps are necessary to begin the process of achieving a diversity of voices in out in the media.

These should include a comprehensive reorganization of the Media Diversity and Development Agency (MDDA) as entirely independent entity charged with the task of supporting the emergence and development of new media voices – across all media content platforms –able to provide South Africans with a choice of perspective and analysis currently denied them.

At the same time, the current concentration of media ownership and control is unhealthy for South Africa’s economic, social and political wellbeing and development.

The position and status of Naspers in particular, with unrivalled cross-media reach and dominance, demands urgent attention.

South African media cannot prosper while a single entity has such a stranglehold on its future. Nor can its content production sector, its electronic and traditional media distribution networks – all essential components of a democracy supporting media environment.

Breaking up the Naspers monopoly is vital – and may require drastic solutions. These could include outright nationalization, or a comprehensive breakup, as was imposed on the Bell monopoly in the US.

Content revolution

The summit declared a campaign for content revolution to ensure diversity of perspective with focus on the views, interests, the culture and artistic development of those marginalized – in particular, the workers, the poor and the rural masses – by the untransformed and private monopoly dominance. This revolution will target diversity of language, culture, historical heritage as well as content ownership, development, dissemination and promotion.

Content is fundamental in at least two ways.  It enables, empowers and educates society to make informed choices and, if left unattended and untransformed in the hands of a few it can be used to mislead society which is currently happening.

Equally important, content has vast economic value – which is currently colonized by a private monopoly, in which the apartheid era company, Naspers, is dominant.  No wonder why resistance to transformation is overwhelming and holding our country back almost in all key economic areas of the media and in other sectors.

Accountability and Regulation

South Africans depend on information, interpretation and analysis provided by the information media sector to take decisions on economic, social and political interaction with broader society.

Information media thus have a responsibility and an obligation to produce reliable, accurate and credible information.

Despite the steps taken in recent years by the sector itself, no common, binding instrument exists to ensure the consistent provision of reliable, accurate information and interpretation.

The summit therefore calls for an immediate review, drawing on the perspective of Media Charter that which was discussed, towards mechanisms that are independent of both the subject of regulation – i.e. the media – and the government, to regulate the sector and ensure accountability.

The review should draw on practices elsewhere in the world, including those that provide for simple, affordable, judicial processes to fast-track anti-defamation initiatives and render them accessible to all South Africans without any hindrance or barriers.

Public broadcasting

The content of the SABC is skewed towards commercial interests because of its funding model and the subjective interests of the elements and forces that have gained hold of the public broadcaster for advancing their narrow, including private accumulation, interests. In the process, the SABC has also been used to advance sectarian and factional interests – this is dangerous for a democratic society. There are many worrying signs that the SABC’s most important aspect of its mandate, that of being an independent public broadcaster, has been compromised.

Furthermore, the lack of governance and administrative stability, weak appointments and associated perpetual crises, erode the quality of leadership provided to the institution. Summit committed to ensure that the ANC-led Alliance and public structures including the Portfolio Committee improve oversight of the implementation of the public mandate responsibility of the SABC and to assist with exploring alternative means of revenue generation.

Stern action must be taken to root out corruption, abuse of office and corporate capture at the SABC.   

Digital migration

The Department of Communications’ position on the Set Top Box (Digital Decoders) Standard and Encryption has significantly deprived our country of harnessing huge economic and developmental opportunities presented by digital migration. 

In line with the radical social and economic transformation that South Africa needs, the summit declared that all set-top boxes procured by the state through Universal Services Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) must all be manufactured locally. As partners on media transformation, we will be campaigning for the adoption a multiplatform capable Set Top Box (multi-crypt). In order for our country to break from the yoke of private monopoly, the monopoly of the single Digital Video Broadcasting 2 (DBV-2) must end. We call for an alternative open source broadcasting standard and, in addition, for standard localization, to lower the cost of access both to the state as the subsidizer and to the workers and the poor.

The deal between Multichoice and SABC in respect of archived content also stands to disadvantage the country in respect of revenue generation.  The deal MUST be reversed!

Workplace transformation

The class, racial and gender character of dominant media ownership, control and the newsroom is untransformed. Many media workers remain underpaid and are subject to despotic management control that stifles content, especially news reporting, thereby violating the very same freedom of expression that it purports to champion. 

Organising workers in the industry is difficult – due to the anti-union, intransigent management, but also due to neoliberal dominance that fosters the sub-culture of individualism and self-centredness, the celebrity persona that surrounds some media workers and consequent inadequate solidarity. 

The professional grievances of media workers need to be attended to as a matter of urgency and their right to freedom of association must be protected. 

The summit agreed on the necessity for a strategy to reorganize workers in the industry, professionally, strengthen unionization, support unemployed media workers, and advance a skills revolution.

The South African Media: It’s Time for a Change!

The South African media, with a few notable exceptions, is stuck in an apartheid era time warp. This must change!

A social movement that unites a broad range of progressive organisations, a number of which are already signatories to this declaration, interested in democratic media transformation will be established to pursue a minimum programme. We invite all other social organisations who share the sentiments contained in this declaration to join forces with us!

Issued by the SACP, 3 October 2015