"Free independent and pluralistic media: enabling role of the State. The good practices"

The theme debated at this Council meeting is very important and central for our democracy, more as it comes many years after the Windhoek Declaration which was endorsed by UNESCO promoting press freedom, independent and pluralistic media.
Chairperson, it is my considered view that it is not by accident that member states adopted declarations like the Windhoek Declaration and WSIS Declaration, etc. It is because of an acknowledgement of the importance of diverse and pluralistic media for the sustainability of democracy. Diversity of view and opinions promoting different perspectives enriches citizens to participate in a people driven democratic process. It is therefore in the interest of states to support media diversity and pluralism. Media being recognised as the fourth state (in addition to the legislature, judiciary and the executive) is an important medium for both state and citizens. It informs, educate, entertains and provide a platform for dialogue necessary for democratic discourse. Any democracy for it to be sustainable, it needs free and diverse media. The freedom of the media must be protected by the legislative framework, in particular the constitution law and by implication be protected by an independent judiciary. An independent judiciary is vital and critical for any constitutional democracy. A democratic state has a responsibility to support and promote a free and diverse media, as this is in the interest of its citizenry and sustainability of its rule. Diverse views and opinions, diverse sources of information empower citizens to participate in a democracy.

Chairperson, me being from South Africa I will draw my case study experience from the South African example, not to say or suggest it the perfect but it is premised from a commitment of supporting constitutional democracy which enshrines free, independent and diverse media. This unity in diversity as the former President Nelson Mandela always put it, is fundamental in the health of South African democracy. Last year, South Africa was celebrating 32 years (after the 19 October 1977 most brutal actions against the media by the Apartheid government) with 15 years of legislative guarantees of press freedom and editorial independence brought about by the first democratic elections in 1994. South Africa has undergone profound political and economic transformation over the last 15 years, resulting in new and strong political institutions that underpin democracy and a macro economic framework that encourages greater freedom and competition. Free speech and a free media are entrenched in the Constitution Act No. 108 of 1996 and the media operate in an environment free of oppression, persecution and the repressive legislation which sought to restrict and control the media. The Constitution Act of 1996 protects and provides for the freedom of the media, freedom of expression and access to information. This is further supported by the legislative framework giving effect to the constitution, including the MDDA Act of 20021, ICASA Act of 20002, Electronic Communications Act of 2005, Broadcasting Act of 1999, Access to Information Act of 2000, Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, etc. including Chapter 9 of the Constitution which sets up institutions to support democracy.

The legislative framework establishes an independent communications authority (ICASA) to regulate broadcasting, telecommunication and postal in the public interest. The regulator acts within the parameters of the policy and law, prescribes regulations, impose measurable license terms and conditions, monitor compliance to the license conditions and manage frequency spectrum. Print media is not statutory regulated in South Africa, it is self regulated under the Press Ombudsman3.

Parliament in South Africa, recognizing the exclusion and marginalization of disadvantaged communities and persons from access to the media and the media industry, resolved to establish the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), an Agency established by the MDDA Act No. 14 of 2002 in partnership with the major print and broadcast media industry, to help create an enabling environment for media development and diversity that is conducive to public discourse and which reflects the needs and aspirations of South Africans. MDDA is also set to promote media development and diversity, by primarily providing support to community (non-profit) and small commercial media projects. The basis of the objects of the MDDA Act, arises from amongst others the Constitution of South African, which provides for amongst others;

“16. Freedom of expression
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes -
    1. freedom of the press and other media;
    2. freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
    3. freedom of artistic creativity; and
    4. academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.”
“32. Access to information
  1. Everyone has the right of access to -
    1. any information held by the state; and
    2. any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.”5
The above sections 16 and 32 of the Bill of Rights, summarizes in brief the motivation why media development and diversity is critical for our country. Also, these lay a foundation for a legislative intervention towards the achievement of the objects of the MDDA Act. Further, this intervention by the state, followed civil society advocacy work for such an establishment.

The MDDA, acts through a Board appointed through a public participatory process by the President on the recommendation of the National Assembly. Whilst funding and supporting this media, the MDDA is prohibited by law from interfering with its content. Further the Board is protected to act independently without any fear, favour or prejudice. They take an oath to that effect before taking office. The MDDA mandate is enshrined in Section 3 of the MDDA Act, it requires that the MDDA in giving meaning and effect to Section 16 (1) of the Constitution Act No. 108 of 1996, (amongst others) encourages the ownership and control and access to media by historically disadvantaged communities as well as by the historically diminished indigenous language and cultural groups, with an overall objective of promoting, supporting and encouraging diverse media.

This partnership (with private sector) is based on a voluntarily mechanism for the cross-subsidization and commitment for media development and diversity, which appreciates that the work of the MDDA, in terms of capacity building, skills development, promotion of media literacy, research, etc. serves the interest of the entire media and broadcasting industry. The established or mainstream media taps on trained personnel from the community and small commercial media, making this cross-subsidisation a kind of investment in training. In 2006, the President promulgated the Electronic Communications Act of 2005 (ECA) which provides for a different dispensation with respect to the financing of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA). As a result of this Act, the Broadcasting Service Licensees have renewed their funding agreement with the MDDA to be based on a contribution of 0.2% of their annual turn-over of licensed activities.

Chairperson, it is critical to appreciate the broader context, as we gathered here today debating this theme and celebrating media freedom, to emphasize the significant role media can play in helping the different people to communicate with each other in order to strengthen democracy, promote a culture of human rights and enable all to participate fully in economic growth and speed up transformation and development. Information is knowledge and power. This can only be achieved if every citizen (where ever s/he is located, rural or urban, poor or rich) has access to a choice of a diverse range of media. Media also provides a window of transparency in government and injects life to a country's economy by publishing financial and market information to citizens, allowing them to participate freely and fruitfully in their country's economy. Access to communication and information empowers citizens, facilitate participatory democracy, and assist in defending, advancing and deepening democracy. Free, independent and pluralistic media can only (I argue) be achieved through not only many media products but by diversity of ownership and control of media.

In conclusion, state can participate in the promotion of pluralistic and diverse media, through its laws and interventions guided by principles of free and independent media like it happens in such countries as South Africa. Chairperson, clearly, state intervention through policy and legislation with objectives to creating an enabling environment, which support media development and diversity, can enable free, independent and pluralistic media. The interventions should always be guided by the principle of promoting media freedom and independence. This is the critical vigilance as surely the temptation is always there to want to interfere with content but in a constitutional democracy (my emphasis), law can protect media against any such interference, if it arises. Media diversity supports, promotes and strengthens democracy, nation building, social cohesion and good governance.
The unique private public partnership leading to the establishment of the MDDA, provides for state involvement without interfering with content, media freedom and its independence.

I thank you.

Lumko Mtimde
Chief Executive Officer
Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA)
4th Floor
31 Princess of Wales Terrace
Parktown, Johannesburg
South Africa
Tel. +27 11 643 1125
Fax +27 11 643 1126
Contacts/E-Mail Address:


Lumko Mtimde, the Chief Executive Officer of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), is a graduate of the University of the Western Cape and the University of South Africa where he completed a BSc. degree in Physiology and Biochemistry and a Postgraduate Diploma in Telecommunications and Information Policy respectively. He also completed the Executive Development Programme through NetTel@Africa (LTA, Lesotho), 3 Day MBA in Leadership (Terrapin Training) and Strategic Leadership Academy (Regal Exchange, UK).

He served the Independent Broadcasting Authority, as a Councillor from 1998 to 2000, following his appointment by the then South African President Nelson Mandela, in terms of the IBA Act. From 2001 - 2002, he served as a General Manager/Chief Director (Broadcasting Policy) of the Department of Communications, Ministry of Communications. In 2002, he was appointed by President Thabo Mbeki to serve ICASA as a Councillor for a four-year term of office until 2006, in terms of the ICASA Act of 2000.

He also serves on the Grand Jury of the World Summit Awards (WSA) 2007 as a Judge, a national expert and a spokesperson for Africa, a global initiative to select and promote the world's best e-content, started in 2003 as a contribution to the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society - WSIS. Mtimde also served as a Judge for the SABC News Awards 2008. He is also one of the High Level Panel of Advisors of the Global Alliance for ICT and Development, launched by the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan in March 2006, as nominated by the WSA Board.

Before 1998, he was a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF). He also served as Vice President (Southern and Eastern Africa) of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasting (AMARC), President of AMARC Africa and as a Vice President (Africa) of the International Board of Directors of AMARC based in Montreal, Canada until 1998. He was also an Executive Member of the South African Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). He was also once a member of the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI). He is also a founder member of National Community Media Forum (NCMF), the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF), Bush Radio (the first Community Radio in South Africa) and AMARC Africa (the organization of Community Radio in Africa). He also served on the Broadcasting Policy Stakeholders Advisory Committee following his appointment to the Committee by the then Minister of Communications, Jay Naidoo.

He served a number of Boards including, the Board of the Eastern Cape Information Technology Initiative (ECITI) and the Board of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ) until November 2006. During his term at ICASA, he also served as the Vice-Chairman of Telecommunications Regulatory Association of Southern Africa (TRASA) based in Botswana, now called CRASA. He also served in the NetTel@Africa Executive Council, as Deputy Chairperson and Acting Chairperson. He also represented ICASA, as a member of the ICT BEE Steering Committee, which developed the ICT BEE Charter. He was also part of the Working Group and the country delegation which attended the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC 01 and RRC 02) in Geneva, which prepared for the digital broadcasting migration.

1 Media Development and Diversity Agency Act
2 Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Act
4 MDDA Act No. 14 of 2002
5 Constitution Act No. 108 of 1996

24 Mar 2010 16:00