To Karen Thorne, station manager of Cape Town TV (CTV), community television has been an “obsessive, single-minded focus” since she was introduced to the work of French academic Armand Mattelart as a journalism and media studies student at Rhodes University.
She seems to share this preoccupation with her counterpart at KwaZulu-Natal’s newly licensed community television station, Bay TV. When it comes to media, and community TV in particular, Bay TV’s station manager, Edwin Mncwango, says he must either be “obsessed or possessed”; a condition that could in part explain why he has worked on the project since 2004 without remuneration.
Thorne has been working in community television for 15 years. It took 12 of those for a regulatory framework to be finalised, which eventually enabled Soweto TV (!_LT_EMsee sidebar!_LT_/EM) to become the first local community television station to be awarded a one-year broadcasting licence.
CTV, which will broadcast to the greater Cape Town area, and Bay TV have since become the first community television stations in their respective provinces to be granted such licences.
It took tenacity and a “bulldog mentality” to get to this point, says Thorne. “It felt as if it would never happen.” Having to accept delays is still very much a part of their reality. At the time of going to print (mid-August), Thorne was not sure when they would be able to go on air, as they were “at (signal distributor) Sentech’s mercy”. In addition they were expecting to receive their core funding only shortly before going on air.
CTV hoped to start broadcasting regular programming from this month (September). Initially it will broadcast five to seven hours per day. Content, in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, will focus on Cape Town.
In their experience the necessary production capacity “most definitely” exists in the region. “We called for (content) proposals in November 2007 and received 45 to 50, of which 20 have been approved.”
Thorne says an “absolute minimum budget” of R3-million is required for the year. In an attempt to maintain independence, the station is seeking funding from as many sources as possible Ã¢Â€Â“ including the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), government grants, donor funding, in-kind contributions, sponsorship and advertising. “No one source dominates. I think we are finding that balance.”
CTV has cut costs through deals to use existing studio space and equipment in the Cape Town area. The team has established relationships with local community radio stations, which will function like bureaux.
Seven people make up the station’s core staff Ã¢Â€Â“ people who are prepared to work for a “minimum salary”. The rest of the team is made up of volunteers. Working with volunteers, says Thorne, has been one of the big challenges of setting up a community TV operation.
CTV involves the community through non-governmental organisations Ã¢Â€Â“ a hundred of which were represented at its first AGM.
Thorne believes community television has the ability to empower people by giving them access to information and communicating their needs; that it could help to build a sense of identity Ã¢Â€Â“ especially given the dominance of communication that is driven by commercial imperatives.
To Bay TV’s Mncwango, community TV is a vehicle to showcase KwaZulu-Natal “because the main target of the SABC is Johannesburg and Cape Town”; to create jobs and to empower young people Ã¢Â€Â“ to become actors, newsreaders and the like.
He says Bay TV is aiming to be on air this month. They need R7-million seed funding, which he believes will be in place by the time they start broadcasting. One of Bay TV’s funders is the MDDA. Mncwango says the fact that Bay TV has been awarded a one-year licence, complicates fund-raising efforts, because potential funders are not “sure we’re here to stay”.
Bay TV is “engaging” with the Department of Communications and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in the hope that community television licences will in future be granted for a period of six to 10 years.
The station’s main source of income will be advertising and sponsorships. “We’re not here for the money, but you need money Ã¢Â€Â“ to buy and produce programmes, to buy cameras and cars; to do research,” he says.
Bay TV, which was formed by a voluntary association of communities, will broadcast 60 percent local, 30 percent national and 10 percent international content. Initially, it will broadcast from 10am to 1am.
The station, which will broadcast to the area extending from Durban to St. Lucia, plans to also provide online television. Like its counterpart in Cape Town, it is exploring the possibility of broadcasting on MultiChoice’s DStv platform (as Soweto TV is doing).
Approximately 85 volunteers work for Bay TV Ã¢Â€Â“ no-one is paid. “The community helps us,” says Mncwango about how he has managed to survive without a salary. He adds: “We have a passion and a vision so powerful.”
Soweto TV was the first community television station in the country to receive a one-year broadcasting licence in 2007. This licence expired in July this year. Force Khashane, chairperson, says the station has continued to broadcast while its licence application is being considered, with the permission of ICASA.
Khashane says advertising is the station’s main source of revenue Ã¢Â€Â“ it accounts for approximately 50 percent thereof. Within eight to nine months from going on air on 1 July 2007, Soweto TV started to break even and is now in a position to pay back some of the money it owes. “But people mustn’t think we are rich.”
Soweto TV provides opportunities for students from various institutions to gain experience on the production side. “Some of them have been snapped up by Urban Brew (which has supported production to the tune of R2-million). We regard the station as a training ground Ã¢Â€Â“ we accept that they will be snapped up,” he says.
He believes part of the station’s success lies in the fact that it does “nothing without contacting the community”. This is done through, for example, schools, churches and taxi associations. His advice to new community TV stations is to involve people with experience in running a television station, to avoid infi ghting and to spend conservatively.
Marco Velosa, group sales and marketing manager of Urban Brew, says they estimate Soweto TV’s (unofficial) viewership figure to be around 40,000 Ã¢Â€Â“ based on commissioned research.
Sekgoela Sekgoela, spokesperson of ICASA, could not confirm whether Soweto TV had continued broadcasting in the absence of a licence with the authority’s permission. He did confirm that the regulator was considering Soweto TV’s application. Another application that was being considered at the time of going to print, was that of Ekangala Community Television.
This article first appeared in The Media magazine (September 2008).