REPORT: State of the Media Development & Diversity Agency and Community Radio in South Africa
SOS Reports on the Media Development and Diversity Agency’s Performance and its contribution to the State of Community Radio in South Africa
State of the MDDA
The meeting began with a report delivered on the state of the MDDA, over the 2013/2014 fiscal year, but the physical report had not actually been sent to the committee. This was not a good start to what would be a depressing meeting. The report that MDDA delivered claimed it had achieved all the targets it had set. These targets, however, were particularly focussed on issues of ‘corporate governance’.
The MDDA claimed to have supported 5870 media projects over the last year and, in particular, emphasized that it was pushing these media projects to adhere to good governance principles. How these principles were being linked to the substantive business of community media and the content being supported was not made entirely clear, with greater emphasis being placed on a vague conception of entrepreneurship and responsible use of funds.
Reference was made to the support being given to Black media owners as well as the ongoing challenge to the sustainability of small media who were required to compete with the large media houses. The MDDA reported that it was continuing its work on capacity building in the sector and that one of its key projects in the new fiscal year would be to build a comprehensive database of community media.
Of concern was that the MDDA appeared to be in a funding shortfall of around R4million towards the support of small commercial printing operators and that that funding was unlikely to be received in the new fiscal year. Succession planning had also been significant failure particularly in respect of Board vacancies as well as high staff turnover.
During question time, questions were tabled after by MPs, the first question raised was by an MP who claimed to have received numerous letters from disgruntled former MMDA employees. It probed why there was such a high turnover over of staff at the MDDA, and what was being done to fix this? The committee chairperson intervened in this line of questioning on the basis that half of the MDDA board positions lay vacant, the report was not delivered on time and that the Board was not in a position to respond to that particular question, nor was the Committee able to engage with the issue having not seen the report. She, however, suggested that the Department of Communications was neglecting the MDDA and there wasn’t the accountability necessary for the MDDA to function.
The MP in question then requested the Department to outline what its interaction with the MDDA had been over the last fiscal year, further suggesting that MDDA’s clean audit was inconsequential given how dysfunctional the organization ostensible has been. Of particular concern was the failure to develop capacity inside of the organisation itself.
The Department responded first, pinning the blame on the state of confusion in the establishment the new Department of Communications. In a similar move to that made by the MDDA, it boasted of its clean-audit achievements with the MDDA, because it deployed one of its deputy directors to the MDDA to assist with the auditing process. The Department acknowledged that it needed to do more to close the existing gap in the MDDA. It further noted that it wanted to release a book on transformation based on research carried out. The Department admitted that it had failed with succession planning and said it had policies to ensure this wouldn’t happen in the future, although it did not expand on what these policies were.
Another MP asked a question, about the jobs created by the MDDA and what kind of jobs these were, temporary or permanent. The MDDA responded by conceding that absence was a “worry matter” for the board and the organization, but that it had considerable support from the department. Nevertheless, there remain several vacant positions on the board, which were hindering the process of filling the open positions on the MDDA, although advertisements for the board positions had been placed in the media.
State of Community Radio
The department of Communications boasted that over 85 community radio stations had received support from government, reaching 12 million listeners. Like the report delivered at the first communications portfolio meeting nation-building and social cohesion were cited as priorities for the Department in terms of its mandatet. The same vague statistics were cited, achieving 66% pride in National sporting teams by 2019, increasing pride in South Africa from 66 to 75%, improving identity based on self-description from 66 to 70%. This, apparently, is in line with the NDP
An example of the impact of community radio was ten given in terms of working to combat negative attitudes toward our fellow Africans which led to several recent incidents, community radio as it can reach people that the mainstream media cannot, can play a major role in combatting xenophobia. Community radio’s purpose is according to the department to foster social cohesion, deliver accurate and relative news, allow for democratic participation from communities in terms of content, support local talent. It is also important for the Department that community ownership be encouraged and investing in a feeling that communities have a say over the content, building collective agency and encouraging media diversity.
Currently there is a continued bias towards urban areas in terms of community broadcasting, with the Western Cape and Gauteng in particular benefitting from current funding patterns. The department needs to work to rectify this, Another major effort y the department will be undertaken to digitize community broadcasting and increase technological capacity.
The department is working very closely with GCIS and the MDDA, to fund community media through advertising, but there remains a issue surrounding the sustainability of community radio stations, and some have argued that community media has lost its focus and intended outcomes. The priority, hence, for the department to ensure sustainability in the community media sector is building ‘good governance’, which, as far as can be reported, mostly pertains to good financial management and cost-cutting, in other words to cut down at costs through the introduction of ‘modern’ administrative methods. It remains to be seen how good governance in this sense builds successful community media or any media efforts, instead of spending money on journalism, money might be funneled towards accountants and managers.
It also is unclear how the Department understands the concept of community, community are spoken about as both individual and collective coherent social formations, despite the implication that ‘our community’ has changed since 1994. In my view community remains a buzzword, rather than something the department seems to have a clear understanding of. The role of community broadcasting seems to be understand largely as a powerful tool that the government can use to realize its social cohesion policy objective in line with the NDP. Although what social cohesion is beyond another set of buzzwords remains an open question.
Questions were again delivered from the floor. The first one suggested that another audit was needed from municipalities, government departments and state owned entities to determine how much their advertising efforts are in fact assisting community media. Another questions spoke about allegations made against the MDDA and why none of these issues were addressed in the report, as well as what intervention processes were in place to meet the sustainability challenges faced by small commercial media. Finally a question was tabled again about how national pride was measured.
The responses to these questions were not really notable, except that the idea that community media was a place people used to criminally obtain money from government for there own purposes in some cases even using violence against those who would threaten people’s attempts to squeeze money out of government. The database being created by the MDDA, will be the tool to use for targeted interventions and that the Department of Communications is strongly backing Durban’s attempt to bid for the Commonwealth Games. It also appears that R1,3million was spent on auditing by the MDDA for the last calendar year.
The chair ended the session with nothing how constructive the discussion had been, despite the fact that most questions had not been answered by the department and the MDDA, perhaps she meant that there were no opposition MPs pushing difficult and ‘confrontational’ questions to the department during this meeting.