South Africa had an estimated population of 47 million people in 2005. Eight in ten people were classified as African; among the rest, whites were the largest minority. Since 1994, there has been a constitutional democracy with an executive president elected by parliament, which recognizes 11 official languages (although these are still far from equitable representation in the media). The former liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC), is the ruling party, having won overwhelming electoral mandates since 1994. Under its policies, some 85 percent of homes had electricity by 2005, enabling increased TV penetration. There is a growing black middle class. The government practices a “black economic empowerment” policy, which gives preference to formerly disadvantaged South Africans in terms of contracts and broadcast licensing.
Historical Stages And Determinants
The country was infamous for its apartheid policies (1948–1994), which built upon the white domination and segregation that evolved after Dutch settlers began arriving in the mid-seventeenth century. British colonialism in the nineteenth century saw 100 years of wars of conquest and resistance, ending with African South Africans retaining only 13 percent of the land. An indigenous middle class had developed its own press in the late nineteenth century, but this media died when its class basis was destroyed as white hegemony consolidated. Waves of resistance newspapers developed in the twentieth century, closely linked to the fortunes of political movements such as the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (1920s), the Congress movement (1950s), communists (1930s–1940s), Black Consciousness (1970s), and the United Democratic Front (1980s). State repression of these political movements saw a range of tactics being used to silence the media associated with them. The banned ANC put out underground publications and ran a shortwave radio station from the 1960s.
The English-language white colonial press successfully campaigned for press freedom from early on, and secured this in 1828. In its mainstream form, this media sector came to be owned by the mining industry for most of the twentieth century, from which base it was mildly critical of apartheid.
The Afrikaans-language press emerged as part of the Afrikaner nationalist movement in the twentieth century, financed by Afrikaner finance capital, and completely intertwined with the ruling National Party during most of the apartheid era. Radio broadcasting as a state monopoly easily fell under government domination after the advent of apartheid. Its subsequent services were geared to uniting whites, and – when additional stations were launched in the 1950s and 1960s – fragmenting black identities along ethnic or tribal lines. The television arm of the South African broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was started only in 1976, aimed mainly at a white audience, and it had three channels – all commercialized – in operation at the time of the transition to democracy in 1994. The newspaper industry owned a subscription entertainment channel, M-Net.
After apartheid, substantial broadcast pluralism emerged, as well as a degree of black ownership of both print and electronic media. However, of the major print groups in 2006, Independent Newspapers was a foreign investor with no local shareholder (having bought the Argus group from the mining industry in 1993), while Naspers (commonly known as Media24) had only minor ownership among people other than Afrikaners.
Normative And Legal Framework
The 1996 constitution included a Bill of Rights that provides for rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the media, and access to information. As part of freedom of speech, journalists are not required to register. However, freedom of speech does not extend to hate speech, and it has to be balanced with rights to dignity and privacy. Since 1999, the Film and Publications Act has provided for pre-publication restrictions on content relating to age and distribution. It covers both child pornography and hate speech, and is applied to print media that are not members of the industry body (which operates a self-regulatory press ombudsman). The Act has not applied to licensed broadcasters, who are governed by the statutory Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, as well as the self-regulatory Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa. Those that are subject (e.g., cinemas) may not screen any film classified XX or “which, judged within context, amounts to propaganda for war, incites imminent violence, or advocates hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion and which constitutes incitement to cause harm” (South African Government 1999). A parliamentary bill in September 2006 elicited major condemnation when it sought to scrap the exemption of the mass media bodies that operate under recognized self-regulatory mechanisms.
Another law dealing with hate speech is the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (2000), which bans publication of “anything that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be hurtful, cause harm or promote hatred on the basis of race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language or birth” (South African Government 2000). No media have been prosecuted for hate speech during the democratic era, and new legal precedents have meant fewer convictions for infringements of “dignity” (i.e., defamation) than previously.
One of the constitutional rights has been developed into the Promotion of Access to Information Act (2002), although this law is little used by the media. There remain some security laws as well as restrictions on reporting courts, but these have also been mainly moribund during the democratic era.
In 1993, a year before the democratic elections, political negotiations led to the passage of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act, the autonomous status of which was maintained in the 1996 constitution. The Independent Broadcasting Authority later became the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) after expanding to include telecommunications and (later) postal regulation. The authority’s councilors are appointed by the minister of communications from a list supplied by parliament after a public nominations process. After a decade of forward-and-back lobbying, by 1996 ministerial powers over Icasa excluded intervention in specific licensing, and were mostly limited to broad policymaking that also has to be open to public comment.
Under the 1993 founding Act, the regulator may only license broadcasters within certain boundaries relating to degrees of cross-ownership by newspaper groups, concentration of ownership of stations, and foreign ownership percentage. The regulator imposes degrees of public service commitments (e.g., news, local content) depending on whether licensees are classed as “public,” “commercial,” or “community.” Community licenses are for local, nonprofit radio stations, which must demonstrate ownership and participation by community groups.
A law passed in 2006, the Electronic Communications Act, tackles convergence and requires a license for “unidirectional” audio and audiovisual content, irrespective of technology used. However, “content services” are exempted from the category of “electronic communications” licenses, which implies that (most) websites can continue to be freely published, although ambiguity may lead to contention.
The Broadcasting Act of 1999 formalized a system whereby board members of the SABC are appointed by the president on the advice of parliament. The 2002 Amendment Act retained the 1999 inclusion of a charter enshrining the corporation’s political independence, but also requiring it to operate in both the public and the “national interest.” The SABC is also accountable to Icasa, which has imposed detailed public service license conditions on the broadcaster’s many stations.
In 2002, the Media Development and Diversity Agency Act was passed, creating an institution mandated (despite a small budget) to promote new small-scale media. The SA Advertising Research Foundation, financed by the media industry, conducts market research (the source of statistics below).
Overview Of The Media
The country’s approximately 45 daily, weekly, and biweekly newspapers are owned by four media groups: Naspers, Johncom, Caxton, and Independent. They are complemented by more than 50 free sheets. Total circulation of daily newspapers was 1.57 million in 2006. Most newspapers are declining in circulation, but there is strong growth in tabloid newspapers, and to a lesser extent in African-language publishing. In 2005, 41 percent of the adult population read a newspaper. The magazine sector is growing. About 20 million audited magazines, including targeted customer publications, are circulated every month.
Radio reaches more than 92 percent of South Africans, and some 88 percent of households have a set. In 2005, there were some 90 community radio stations (though many were struggling), five SABC national footprint stations, and 13 SABC regional stations. The same year, there were 13 privately owned radio stations – mainly regional and held by black ownership groups. However all stations, including SABC’s, compete without any license limits for advertising. Those with elite and urban markets draw the highest revenues. The largest audience is held by the SABC’s isiZulu-language station, Ukhozi FM, heard by 21 percent of the country’s adults in 2005. The same year, the SABC’s Radio Metro, an English-language urban-music station, had grown to be the second largest with 17 percent. Other African-language stations follow with 16 percent (isiXhosa) and 12 percent (seSotho). Seven new commercial licenses were issued during 2006.
In 2005, 7.76 million households (72.1 percent) were estimated to own a television set. Almost 80 percent of South Africans were watching television at least once a week.
The main television service is terrestrial free-to-air. The SABC has three national channels for domestic audiences, and SABC Africa, which targets the remainder of the continent via satellite. The public broadcaster has been licensed to launch two regional channels in indigenous languages, but their launch is pending funding. A company with significant black (union) ownership owns the only private channel, e.tv.
All these channels are licensed to take advertising – not more than 10 minutes of advertising an hour; and not more than 12 minutes in a given hour. The SABC’s two public service channels, however, have to carry 55 percent local content (versus 35 percent for the broadcaster’s commercial service), and had to start reaching 80 percent African-language broadcasting in 2007. SABC 1 had the highest viewership in 2005 (68 percent), with e.tv coming second at 55 percent.
The terrestrial pay service M-Net has 10 percent of viewers, while its sister company DSTV reached 6 percent through 60 television and 40 other channels via satellite.
Internet access remains very much a minority facility, with just 5 percent of South Africans benefiting in 2005. Further, access on a daily basis is enjoyed by just 3.3 percent of adults (or slightly over 1 million people). A study in 2004 showed that this represented 1 percent usage by women compared to 4 percent by men (Gender Links 2004). Most access (57 percent) is via workplaces, because the high cost of telephony deters home-based connections (Goldstuck 2005). E-commerce is low, with only 13 percent of Internet users reporting having transacted online (OMD 2005). Connectivity at multipurpose community centers and schools is fraught with problems.
In a very free environment, South Africa has a media system that escapes being politically controlled. Instead, it is largely driven by commercial logic (although the weak community radio sector is characterized by volunteer rather than waged labor). The effect of dependence on advertising has led to particular controversy around the public broadcaster. Its competitors complain of unfair competition, while civil society and even the ruling party criticize the neglect of public service delivery, especially in indigenous languages. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that government policy will change toward a public funding model for the SABC. The extant policy has not meant, however, a lack of attempts by government to establish greater political control over the SABC. Most of these have been unsuccessful in the face of extensive lobbying, reflecting a strong democratic tradition in the country. Similar battles have been fought over government’s aspirations to control Icasa. Notwithstanding government being kept at arm’s length from broadcasting, and the need for the SABC to compete with editorially credible alternatives, the public broadcaster still frequently incurs accusations that it is not living up to its mandate of independent public broadcasting. On the other hand, e.tv, along with private radio and print, is generally seen as playing a watchdog role, often to the chagrin of the authorities, who say media should be supportive at this stage of national development. There is increasing choice of media, though not generally in mother-tongues. There is little “serious media” in the overall landscape, but that which exists (the Mail & Guardian newspaper, for example) has significant national influence.
- Gender Links (2004). Gender and media baseline study 2003. At www.genderlinks.org.za/ item.php?i_id=120&PHPSESSID=4eb3049fcba56a4ceba34ac83b1edbfa, accessed September 5, 2006.
- Goldstuck, A. (2005). The Goldstuck report: Internet access in South Africa 2005. Johannesburg: World Wide Worx.
- Hadland, A. (ed.) (2005). Changing the fourth estate: Essays on South African journalism. Pretoria: HSRC Press.
- OMD (2005). South African media facts. At www.omdmedia.co.za/samediafacts2005.pdf, accessed September 5, 2006.
- South African Government (1999). Film and Publications Act 65 of 1996, amended 1999. At www.info.gov.za/acts/1996/a65–96.pdf and www.info.gov.za/gazette/acts/1999/a34–99.pdf, accessed October 2, 2007.
- South African Government (2000). Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000. At www.info.gov.za/gazette/notices/2004/26316a.pdf, accessed October 2, 2007.