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World Press Freedom speech at the joint MDDA and DUT event

ANC MP Eric Kholwane, chair of the parliamentary committee on communications, addressed the audience at the joint MDDA and DUT event.
World Press Freedom Day Roundtable

"Press Freedom and Media Diversity, Celebrating 10 years of Media Diversity"
03 May, 2013 (Speech by the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communications: Hon Sikhumbuzo Eric Kholwane) at Durban University of Technology


Program Moderator: Advocate Robin Sewlal
Executive Dean: Faculty of Arts & Design: Dr Kenneth Netshiombo
MDDA Board Members: Mr Phenyo Nonqane and Dr Rene Smith
MDDA CEO: Mr Lumko Mtimde
Director : Genuine Media: Ms Mbali Dhlomo
Students,
Stakeholders,
Members of the media,
Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me take this opportunity to thank the MDDA and DUT for facilitating this round table discussion on the key question of press freedom in the year in which the MDDA is celebrating its 10th Year anniversary, and on this 20th anniversary of the World Press Freedom Day, as proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) at its General Assembly in 1993, in line with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is therefore critical for us to first establish a common understanding of what is meant by press freedom both in the South African context and in the global context.

It is important that we contextualize our discussions by making reference to Apartheid, which was highly authoritarian and undemocratic and aimed to control the 'free' flow of information in the South African society as well as how this information is projected outside country. There was a systemic approach to ban privately owned and non-profit media, and considerable resources were put in place to support all media sympathetic to Apartheid values and goals.

Media during Apartheid was a contested terrain and far from neutrality because it served to reflect the ideological battles and power relations based on race, class and gender in our society (the National Question), and indeed it helped to shape national and global interests of Apartheid and its relevance on governance. The lack of media freedom meant that the media was a voice of the government that served a minority, while lack of diversity of ownership and economic models (non-commercial and commercial) meant that the media represented the voice of economic elite and served to suppress any democracy as a result.

During the anti-Apartheid struggle the ANC campaigned not only for media freedom, but for a greater diversity of media which gave birth to community-based media projects that aimed to give voice to all marginalized communities by serving their information needs and providing a platform for them to express their views and participate in the public discourse.

Post 1994 the Bill of rights put in place constitutional guarantees for media freedom and freedom of expression thereby putting an end to the rampant censorship and the brutal suppression of an alternative voice which existed pre 1994. The South African Constitution Act No. 108 of 1996, Section 16 and 32 recognises and states in Section 16 that: "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."
Whilst section 32 states that: "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."
These constitutionally guaranteed media rights formed an important foundation for a suite of other enabling legislative frameworks that have been enacted since 1994 with the express intention to foster an open society free from oppression and censorship.

The legislative instruments put in place post 1994, are tools aimed at democratising the media space and create access and promote diversity in the form of gender, race, language and geographical spread.

In its Press Freedom and Development book, UNESCO states that "Freedom of the press is a derivative of the fundamental right constituted by freedom of information". As stated in resolution 59 (I) adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations at its first session in 1946, "Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated. Freedom of information implies the right to gather, transmit and publish news anywhere and everywhere without fetters. As such it is an essential factor in any serious effort to promote the peace and progress of the world". The premise that "understanding and cooperation among nations are impossible without an alert and sound world opinion" also constitutes an essential freedom, for which press freedom is a key vehicle. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights further asserts this freedom by stressing that "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Both the above positions have one common objective running through them, and that is the freedom to access information from any media and express an opinion without interference.

It is worth noting that Press Freedom rights are not above all other rights as enshrined in the Bill of Rights such as the right to dignity, right to privacy etc. It is therefore a challenge to be posed at the press particularly those media practitioners who posture and declare for themselves that their right to express themselves is above all other rights even if it is to the detriment of other people's rights, such as rights to dignity and right to privacy.

As South Africans we have to look back since 1994 to realise the strides we've made as a country to promote and protect press freedom in line with the prescripts of the Freedom Chatter, The South African Constitution and indeed the Article 19 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Parliament of the people of South Africa has been engaging with the South African media in particular the Print Media for a while now around the issues of transformation in the print media.

This has and continues to be part of the oversight role of the committee and as informed amongst others by the MDDA commissioned "Trends of Ownership and Control" research study of 2009, which painted a worrying picture of the state of Print Media transformation in South Africa after 15 years of democracy. The research states that the South African print media has been mainly controlled and influenced by four conglomerate groups consisting of Caxton, Media 24, Independent Media Group and Avusa (now Times Media Group),

Since 1994 the transformation of the print media environment has been happening at a snail's pace, and there is general consensus within government that this sector requires more focus. Transformation issues have plagued the industry since 1994. Already, in 1996, the Comtask report initiated by former President Thabo Mbeki referred to the monopolistic control of the media particularly in the areas of distribution and printing. This was seen as creating barriers to entry for prospective media owners.

Throughout the transition period, there was a commitment from government and the ruling party to establish and promote non-commercial and small commercial media. Subsequently in 2002 the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) was set up as a statutory body independent of the government to provide funding and to promote media diversity in South Africa.

The ruling party has always understood that information is knowledge and is therefore by virtue, power. Real media freedom is non-existent without diversity in ownership of the media. In the context of an information society and knowledge economy that RSA strives towards, media freedom should be understood to include the participation of the poor not merely as consumers, but also as producers of news and analysis. Media diversity is therefore fundamental to our democracy, nation building, social cohesion and good governance; and the ANC is cognisant of this need.

In 2007, this situation had not changed significantly and at its 51st National Congress , the African National Congress again spoke of the slow transformation in the print media environment - and noted that there was a need to address this issue as well as to allocate more funding to the MDDA to ensure that as broad and diverse an audience as possible would be reached. The Conference also recommended strongly that the MDDA should facilitate the development of media, aimed at youth, women, children and persons with disability.

Print media transformation issues are currently being addressed but no significant change has taken place to date. The four big media companies - Naspers (Media24), Caxton, Independent News Media and Avusa (Times Media) still continue to dominate and media assets are still owned mainly by these companies. Monopolistic control of both printing and distribution also impacts this environment as this can lead to possible anti competitive behavior as highlighted by the Competition Commission.

Ownership by historically disadvantaged individuals (HDI) is also below the desired percentage and women still lack a voice in this sector, whilst language diversity remains at insignificant levels. The major print media players such as Media24, Times Media and recently Independent Media Group have some degree of HDI ownership. The PDMSA report to Parliament (June 2011) on the state of print media transformation shows that Times Media at the time had at least a 25.5% HDI shareholding, Media24 had 15%, and Caxton and Independent Newspapers had no HDI participation.

The community media sector including the small commercial print sector have been negatively affected by this lack of transformation, mainly due to the significant barriers to entry that exist in the market. In addition, lack of diversity in ownership and control, has led to a lack of diversity in terms of language, race, gender, content, and sources of news.

In the "The print media transformation dilemma" paper published in March 2011, Prof Jane Duncan supported the argument presented by media academics, Dr Mashilo Boloka and Ron Krabill who said that: "successful transformation would be achieved when the media 'reflects, in its ownership, staffing and product, the society within which it operates. This is only possible if access is opened - again in ownership, staffing, and product - not only to the emerging black elite, but also to grassroots communities of all colors".

This presented a strong argument as to why community and small commercial media needs to engage actively in the transformation process - to support not only a process to ensure the print media industry was a mirror of the present democratic dispensation but one that opened up the environment further to a diversity of voices.

On the 18th June 2012 the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communication held its Parliamentary Print Media Transformation at ICASA premises in Johannesburg. The Committee called upon GCIS and MDDA to work with the industry on the roadmap towards the establishment of a Print Media Charter. This Print Media Charter was a stepping stone towards promoting BBBEE in the sector. Among other things, the Charter was important in that it needed to address:
  • The availability of print media in languages all South Africans speak.
  • The specifics of the industry, including setting deadlines and targets to meet transformation objectives, seen as a commitment by the industry into a diverse and transformed print media in the entire value chain (newsroom, publishing, news sources, printing, distribution and advertising).These will include areas of ownership and control, language, race, gender, employment equity, conditions of employment, skills development, contributions to promoting media diversity (through MDDA), accord on access to printing & distribution, etc.
The launch of the Print and Digital Media Transformation Task team (PDMTTT) initiated by the Print and Digital Media SA (PDMSA) is against the background of the Parliamentary Print Media Transformation Indaba which was held on 18 June 2012 at ICASA,

The Task Team has been mandated to assist the industry to develop a common vision and strategy for transformation in mainstream, small private and community media businesses. It will also recommend areas of transformation, the methodology of implementing transformation, and targets and mechanisms to monitor and enforce transformation. The team is looking at both quantitative and qualitative indicators such as:
  • Ownership, Management, control and employment equity,
  • Skills development,
  • Preferential procurement and enterprise development,
  • Socio-economic development, the low levels of black ownership within many large media groups, the extent to which concentration and market power results in anti-competitive behaviour that blocks new entrants, the need to develop new media products for regions and communities as well as the languages of those publications, and diversity of voices.
Their Report detailing their findings and recommendations is due soon.

Diversity in media ownership and editorial diversity is essential in a developing democracy like South Africa, because it is through a media that is varied and diverse that will contribute to the multiplicity of views on the issues of gender, the portrayal of women in the media, diversity of languages, and diversity of opinions on wide ranging matters affecting South Africans today.

Media is an essential enabler in this discourse and it has the potential to help South Africa forge an environment that encourages tolerance of divergent views and promote an ideal that we all subscribe to, unite behind and work tirelessly towards attaining. A potential threat to press freedom and media diversity is the funding models where advertising and sponsorship have become primary sources of income for the media sector. Sustainability is carefully dependent on how the media agencies promote perspectives of their advertisers and cater to information needs of the more wealthy sections of the population, this is not an ideal environment for a country with a majority rural and poor households. And the ruling party is cognisant of this fact.

Other areas of concern in an information society and knowledge economy include the intellectual property arrangements in the communications sector and in a developing world agenda; it is of utmost priority that these rights are not seen to favour the wealthy. Information as a rule should be free and not treated as a commodity subject to proprietary control however we are all aware that this is not the case. Recently information is increasingly becoming a commodity and a privilege to a few where not everyone has access to by right. Parallel to this is the need to capacitate, protect and grow journalists and other media workers as critical players to sustain the sector.

CONCLUSION

Press Freedom and the development of media, especially community and small commercial media is well supported through various legislative instruments which have been put in place since 1994 to guide Government working through its agencies and with the support of all stakeholders to give meaning and effect to the creation of an enabling environment for media development and diversity that is conducive to public discourse and which reflects the needs and aspirations of South Africans

South Africa and its people have the right to know - that is to be free to access and to share information irrespective of race, colour or creed and not constrained by geographical and economic dependencies. This is a fundamental right to our democracy, an open, accountable, participatory and a responsive government that is empowered to deliver the social, economic and environmental justice for its entire people.

Answers to transformation challenges will ultimately be determined by the extent to which stakeholders remain committed to the South Africa agenda as envisaged in the Constitution, and the coordinated approach by Government, Parliament, academic institutions and NGO's in realizing the shared destination for us all.

6 May 2013 11:44

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