I read with great interest three articles that were published in TheMediaOnline this past week. This was on the eve of the sensationalised protest against the Protection of State Information Bill, which I understand was going to be called Black Wednesday, but became Black Tuesday (organised as part of Right2Know Campaign).
Media and lobby groups ought to be careful, though, that although this initiative is for a good cause, that it does not play the role of further polarising society. It’s through such campaigns that they face opposition as they are perceived to be hijacking, distorting or downplaying our history for narrow benefits.
The three articles that formed the basis of this piece are: firstly, Dr.Blade Nzimande’s No media freedom without media diversity; secondly, TheMediaOnline reporter piece titled Print Media industry commits itself to transformation targets; and lastly, the Beth Shirley piece titled Getting ready for the transformation.
All the three articles highlight the demon of transformation that the industry has 17 years into democracy failed to address, or to put it fairly, been slow to address.
Transformation in the industry will require more than lip service and the so called ‘fifth’ state being content with Level 5 ratings. These ratings are really not impressive, but more shocking to me is that media-and-related industries are still talking about ‘getting ready for transformation’. This should be a serious concern and considered, overall, a violation of the highest order by these institutions that shape public opinion and perception.
Dr. Blade Nzimande’s article touches on aspects particularly related to the print industry, and the media as the primary custodians of our Bill of Rights. He also talks about ownership, diversity and media freedom, broadening the debate on media diversity and language, and media freedom and diversity. Of particular interest is the role of commercial media and the fact that the discourse might not necessarily be in the interests of the reader, but rather be shaped by commercial.
The industry wants to play the role of player and referee at the same time. Furthermore, when there are calls for independent bodies of accountability such as the Media Appeals Tribunal, the industry’s intolerance of critical engagement, on aspects that relate to their industry, is often viewed as an attack on media freedom or a gag on freedom of expression.
The article on Print Media South Africa summarises the largest of the print media companies’ presentations on their transformation statistics that were presented to the Portfolio Committee on Communications (PCC). The article quotes the President of Print Media South Africa (PMSA), Hoosain Karjieker, as having said the “print media industry on an individual company basis, been complying with aligning their organisations with the Department of Trade and Industry’s BEE Codes”.
It highlights some key statistics as a tool to show transformation within these companies. The writer noted that despite investment in skills development, this fell short of the BEE codes’ target of 5% of total basic payroll.
What I personally doubt was reported to the Portfolio Committee is the percentage of outsourcing of core components of their business that therefore no longer form part of their reporting. Who owns these outsourced businesses and should these outsourced services be included, what would be their impact be on both skills development levy contributions, transformation and most importantly, on the statistics themselves?
It would be interesting to further break down the transformation statistics regarding blacks – in this case, the term blankets everyone who is not white – so as show that ownership and management changes include, in the main, previously marginalised minority groups. This means the companies are ‘compliant’ while still excluding the majority of Africans in particular.
It would also be interesting to note, with regards to the editorial staff, whether freelance writers, who might not necessarily benefit from company benefits, were included in the statistics as part of the distortion those statistics. Still on editorial: has increased representation of marginalised demographics within the newsroom enhanced media diversity or the status quo and what influence does the commercial side of media have in the newsroom?
The last article, written by Beth Shirley, though not directly related print media, is somewhat inter-related. The article is more about the Marketing, Advertising and Communications (MAC) Charter: the so-called ‘blueprint’ for transformation in the industry. The article notes that the “charter has been in the making for more than a decade”.
What I find to be of particular concern with regards to this charter, despite the delays and its non-existence after a decade, it will be that the charter will allow the industry not to follow the generic scorecard supplied by the DTI. Furthermore the targets don’t necessarily changed according to the delays but rather targets are now being pushed out to 2016. This means 20 years past democracy, this sector will still have not achieved the targets the have set themselves as overall part of transformation.
My only wish is that those that are in the industry familiarise themselves with the targets and play their role to transforming their sector prior to charter being made law. Personally let me commend this inter-related sector though, as they definitely take a lead relative to media owners on transformation issues.
Follow Tshepo Moletsane on Twitter @mobisoul
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