Taking community media into the future


A sector-wide summit to seek lasting solutions to the challenges facing community media was a milestone in the promotion of media diversity in South Africa.

The Media Development & Diversity Agency (MDDA) with the department of communications, in collaboration with other government entities, hosted the community media summit on July 30 and 31 in Johannesburg, with the theme "Taking community media to the future".

The community media sector can trace its roots back to 1993 with legislation promulgated through the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act (IBA Act 153 of 1993).

This legislation was a direct product of engagements between the post-apartheid government and South African civil society calling for media transformation, through the creation of an alternative media.

Community media emerged in South Africa over the following years to fulfil a mandate of diversifying the airwaves and providing a media that reflects the needs and aspirations of all South Africans. It is against this backdrop that all role players were urged to participate in the summit to keep community media viable and sustainable for future generations.

The summit brought all sectors of the community media, including print, radio, television and multimedia, together with government and relevant stakeholders to explore new and innovative solutions to the challenges facing the sector.

The summit delegates agreed that the sector continues to fulfil a significant role in the South African media landscape and that it has remained relevant, even after two decades of its emergence. The community media sector has made laudable strides in becoming the "voice of the voiceless", telling stories of communities that would otherwise not have made it into mainstream media.

However, in as much as the delegates praised the many successes and strengths of the sector, they also acknowledged that the sector was grappling with staggering sustainability issues that are threatening its very survival.

There was agreement that the sector's biggest obstacle to sustainability is its struggle to comply with principles of good corporate governance. This noncompliance results in, among others, the inability to procure government advertising spend, which can only be awarded to compliant media entities.

Other challenges that made it to the top of the list were exorbitant broadcast transmission fees, unfair competition by mainstream print media, which stifles community print media projects, and staggering printing costs for the community print sector.

The community TV sector also viewed the localisation of digital terrestrial TV (DTT) as a priority.

Some of the solutions that were discussed at the summit included the brainstorming of ideas on how the community broadcast sector can self-provide transmission. The passing of binding legislation that will compel government departments, at all levels, to advertise on community media platforms, as well as the resuscitation of the MDDA advocacy role to assist in unlocking funding from other relevant structures and agencies were also proposed.

A consensus of the summit was that formal training is an important element in the sector's pursuit of sustainability in the advent of digital media and that partnerships with formal training institutions are essential.