[MDD02] for Publication_ State-media Relations the Rise of Private Ownership and Public Broadcasting - Impacts on Democracy and Development
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Keywords: globalisation, media and democracy, integrated development
strategy, state-media relations, policy formulation, public
broadcasting, private ownership.
Abstract: This article investigates the position of the media during the current
era where globalisation plays a significant influencing role in the
media as well as impacting upon democracy and development in
South Africa. The article acknowledges that there is a relationship
between the mass media and the democratic state. The discussion
supports the argument that, for South Africa, tensions between state
and non-state actors remain at uneasy levels. Commercialisation of
the media is a phenomenon that directly opposes developmental
objectives with capitalistic motives of profit being in direct
opposition to the support of a developmental agenda. Unless media
freedom prevails, the socially and economically marginalised stand
to lose their voice and so too, their hopes of seeing a strengthening
democracy and burgeoning development agenda taking center-
stage in South Africa for the foreseeable future.
Author Information: Director/founder — Content Strategics (Pty) Ltd.
Media and communications consultant, social media and online
content manager, media researcher, retired photographer and
Part-time (mid-career) postgraduate student (MA Journalism) at
Stellenbosch University, South Africa.
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Globalisation & Democracy and the mass media................................................................3
Democracy and the mass media.......................................................................................4
Discussion — state-media relations, private media ownership and public broadcasting’s
impacting democracy and development in South Africa.....................................................5
State-media relations and public broadcasting ................................................................5
Private media ...................................................................................................................7
State versus non-state actors ............................................................................................9
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This article investigates the position of the media in South Africa during the current era
where globalisation plays a significant influencing role in the media. The primary focus
of this article centres upon the impact this has on democracy and development. To further
advance this, the discussion includes considerations relevant to state-media relations, the
rise of private ownership, public broadcasting, and the development of media policy as
part of an integrated development strategy. South African examples are used in order to
enrich the discussion.
We look firstly at a discussion of some terms as they relate to the context within which
they apply in this article; namely, that of globalisation and, democracy and the mass
We acknowledge that “the concept of globalization has replaced the imperialism
paradigm as the main way of thinking about the international media”, thereby signifying
a new era as much as a new way of thinking, and implying a new kind of “social order”
encountered in society (Sparks, 2007:126). Thus, globalisation may be regarded as an
unavoidable feature of contemporary society.
“There are numerous competing theories of globalization” and, in fact, exhaustive
investigation resulted in Held (cited in Sparks, 2007:126) and his collaborators
concluding that “no single coherent theory of globalization exists”. A straightforward
definition states that “globalization refers to the growing interconnectedness of different
parts of the world, a process which gives rise to the complex form of the interaction and
the interdependency” (Grotan and Svendsen, 2013:para. 2, emphasis mine).
An adjunct to the phenomenon of globalisation—and the indirect impact it has on various
forms of society—is asserted by Puledda (2000:para. 6) who believes that globalisation is
accompanied by an ideology of “making money out of money” which at the cultural level,
may be regarded as “the religion of money”. Consequently, Puledda (2000:para. 6,
emphasis mine) believes that:
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we are seeing a diminishment worldwide of allocations to healthcare, education,
pensions, and other public welfare assistance. It seems no country can tame this
unregulated monster, which is speculative capital.
Puledda (2000, para. 6) states that vehement promoters of globalisation, [in other words,
those who seemingly benefit from it financially]:
continue to speak of other values — equality, opportunity, democracy — but
underneath the thick layer of hypocrisy the message is the same: the only true
value is money.
Now that we have a shared-view of globalisation (as contemporary societal phenomenon),
we proceed to look at the position of the mass media within a functioning democracy
(such as that which South Africa is).
Embedded in the constitutions of most modern functioning democracies, is a relationship
between the media and the [democratic] state; for some [democratic] states, press
freedom is protected and in other [democratic] states, press freedom is restricted;
[however], absolute or “complete freedom of expression” is not tolerated in any
democracy (Street, 2001:250). What remains true in almost all democracies, is that “a
combination of rules and common practices [creates] a working relationship between
mass media and democracy” and while democratic states have “evolved for regulating
mass media in a democracy, they have all produced different systems” (Street, 2001:250).
As for the meaning of democracy, that definitions are many, including liberal, direct and
deliberative democracy (ibid.). The general meaning adopted for this article applies to
that of the liberal democratic variant: “the model that fits most closely with actually
existing systems in the West” (ibid.). Importantly though, the state-media relationship is
still to be regarded, [generally speaking], as a “crucial player” within a functioning
democracy (Street, 2001:104).
Having delineated the aforementioned terms as they relate within context of this
discussion, we proceed with a discussion of the factors that impact democracy and
development and media policy in South Africa.
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By way of introduction, we observe that many policymakers regard “the link between
human rights [and] democracy and development [as] a core question” (International
Federation of Journalists, 1999:2). In this regard, a key element of these policies, are the
policymakers’ concern for “independent journalism and free media, which provide a
bedrock for democratic exchange and respect for human rights … [in order] to promote
development and to eliminate arbitrary abuse.” (ibid.).
Currently, in South Africa, freedom of the media in order to fulfil its democratic function
is under threat. With “censorship [being] the most obvious form of state control”, Street
(2001:104-105) states that forms of censorship are various and need not always require
“direct intervention”. Thus, censorship being rather difficult to enforce within a liberal
democracy—such as that which South Africa’s is—tends to see alternative indirect forms
of censorship being implemented (by way of restrictive legislation for example) in order
to curb the freedom held by the media. This is certainly the case with the somewhat
contentious planned implementation of the Protection of State Information Bill (POSI)—
also dubbed the ‘Secrecy Bill’—(which at the time of writing) was adopted by the
National Assembly in revised format and sent back to President Jacob Zuma for assent in
November 2013 (Parliament Sends Secrecy Bill Back to Zuma Again, 2014). Opposition
to the POSI bill is strong, with the largest opposition political party, the Democratic
Alliance, stating that it “will not give up fighting this Bill … until it is brought
completely in line with the Constitution” (ibid.).
Presently, intensifying enmity prevails between the state-media—i.e. the South African
Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)—and several civil society (i.e. non-state actors) as
well as opposition political organisations. A recent example was evidenced in an election-
related dispute between the SABC and the Democratic Alliance (DA) relating to the
SABC’s refusal to flight one of the DA’s election advertisements. The DA’s Gauteng
premier-candidate expressed his objection to the SABC’s ruling, by stating that (Simon,
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“ … this is censorship, pure and simple. There is absolutely no rational or legal
basis on which to prevent this ad from airing,” [further arguing that] “the SABC’s
intent is clear – they wish to seriously damage the DA’s election campaign in this
crucial final week of the election”.
Similarly, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) also lodged a complaint of apparent
state-broadcaster interference during the recent 2014 elections: one of the EFF’s election
adverts was banned from being broadcast on national television. After the party’s election
advert banning, EFF members and its officials were left with no alternative but to stage a
protest march to the SABC’s head office (Gifford, 2014). These examples represent two
perturbing indictments made against the state broadcaster (i.e. the SABC). Accusations
that seemingly may very well have had some impact—albeit minimal—on transparent
democratic elections in South Africa, thus impacting the basic fundamentals of
democracy in South Africa too.
Consequently, as Moyo and Chuma (2010:2) suggest, for cases such as these, this may
well lead to a cul-de-sac in the process of attempting to “transform state broadcasters into
public-service broadcasters”. Hence we may reasonably conclude, as Moyo and Chuma
(ibid.) suggest in cases like this, that “the democratisation project [in South Africa]” has
largely failed, giving way, rather, to “superficial forms of democracy” existing in reality.
The aforementioned phenomenon is widely researched and observed by many scholars.
Joseph, Diamond and, Bratton and Van de Walle (cited in Moyo and Chuma, 2010:2),
use “terms such a ‘pseudo democracy,’ ‘virtual democracy,’ and ‘electoral democracy’ in
an attempt to capture the hollowness of the emerging forms of imitative democracy”
(ibid.) which is becoming increasingly evident in many parts of the Southern African
The net effect, or outcome, would surely end up being a serious hindrance to the
advancement of a strengthening democracy and the hope of seeing a burgeoning
development agenda in South Africa. A key consideration is raised by Sparks (2007:132)
when saying that “it becomes increasingly difficult to [forecast] not only what [media]
policies might be developed … but also who might have the kind of power that could
implement them”. Thus we may ask: what would the implications be were this likely
scenario to worsen?
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One reasonable assertion promoted by Sparks (ibid.), is that “[i]n a world in which the
media are independent of national governments, it makes little sense to ask those states to
regulate the media in pursuit of pro-social objectives”. This is highly problematic indeed.
Further issues need to be investigated too. Accordingly, we proceed to look at another
important player in the mediasphere; namely, that of the private media and its role played
in democracy and development in South Africa.
“[T]he most important effect of globalisation is the spread and increasing dominance of
commercialised media” (Grotan and Svendsen, 2013:para. 14). Further to this, Herman
and McChesney (cited in Grotan and Svendsen, 2013:para. 14) state that:
commercialisation of the media will be detrimental to the public sphere. Public
sphere programmes do not sell well, which means loss of an informed citizenry,
loss of democratic order and loss of social stability.
In other words, commercialisation of the media is a phenomenon that seemingly, directly
opposes developmental objectives. Citizens of a nation need to be informed in order that
a democracy may function optimally. Thus, capitalistic motives of profit are in direct
opposition to supporting a developmental agenda. This notion is supported with
assertions made by Herman and McChesney (ibid.) who contend that “audience
commodification corrupts the basic premise of democratic communication, such as access,
participation, and a necessary politicized voice in media content”. What seemingly takes
priority instead, is that “mainstream content, [and] maximizing audiences to attract
advertisers” is all that the private media are truly focused upon (as their primary
commercial imperative) (ibid.). Therefore, we may reasonably conclude that, for the
commercial media, development priorities would, most likely, often be relegated to a
lesser priority than the prime priority of profit making for financial gain.
With additional relevance to the preceding argument, when priorities begin to change, we
note that four distinct negative effects of a globalised media may inevitably result;
namely: the values of citizenry changes to a commercialisation interest and motive; a
“displacement of the public sphere with entertainment” takes place; a “strengthening of
conservative political forces” takes place; and lastly, a tremendous “erosion of local
cultures” takes place (Herman and McChesney, 1997:152–155).
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Consequently, what we may begin to observe, is the emergence of a phenomenon where
the state-media’s role as a significant actor (economically, politically and culturally)
within a democracy is rapidly diminishing (Beck in Sparks 2007:132, emphasis mine).
By contrast, “non-state actors have been among the key players in both the conception
and delivery of the most successful media and communications policies in the [Southern
African] region” (Moyo and Chuma, 2010:1). This would suggest that, not only are we
witnessing the declining role of the state-media in development-related projects, but we
increasingly beginning to see how non-governmental organisations (NGO’s), non-profit
organisations (NPO’s) and civil society institutions are beginning to assume growing
responsibility (and accountability) in the realm of realising South Africa’s developmental
Exacerbating the dilemma, we note that “the state has lost its ability to control the kinds
of messages that circulate in the media, and has been forced to cede control to
supranational organizations” (Sparks, 2007:132). When considering the policy
implications of a situation such as this, we see that: “regulatory control of international
communication is [being] transferred from national sovereignties to international
regulatory organizations … [resulting in] the dilution and eroding of state authority with
regard to communication policy, [thereby indicating a] shift of authority for broadcasting
to the world community which regulates communication flows” (ibid.). At a macro
nation-state level, “[o]ne central feature of [this] new epoch is that the state system that
dominated world affairs for the last four centuries has now collapsed, or is at least under
severe strain” (Sparks 2007;147).
From a political economy perspective, globalisation is seen to impose “policy
homogenization” (Grotan and Svendsen, 2013:para. 4) implying a sameness in design and
purpose across a very broad geography of countries and democracies. Further to this, a
common conclusion is that “globalisation leads to a weakening of power and influence of
nation-states” (ibid.) and consequently, on concomitant policy-formulation and its
implementation that ideally ought to be central in strengthening an integrated
development strategy in South Africa.
Moyo and Chuma (2010:1) have observed that “non-state actors have been among the
key players in both the conception and delivery of the most successful media and
communications policies in the [Southern African] region”. Consequently, Moyo and
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Chuma (ibid.) conclude that “current policies in most Southern African states owes much
to the inputs of civil society [which facilitates] the role of midwife [in policy
However, across the southern African region of states, there remains a “persistent culture
of state dominance in the media and communications policy-making process” (Moyo and
Chuma, 2010:4) … which strongly suggests that “policies are path-dependent [and] once
they are set on a particular course, something of substantial strength will be needed to
deflect them from that course (Peters in Moyo and Chuma, 2010:4). ON the face of it,
this is certainly the case in South Africa with its Protection of State Information bill
which is expected to be promulgated before the end of the 2014 year.
A firm grip on media policy-making, by the state, is to all appearances tightly controlled
because it is believed that this is how, for example, “the battle for the hearts and minds”
of voters is obtained (Moyo and Chuma, 2010:2). Thus, contrary to popular belief about
the ‘retreating state’ (ibid.) “Southern Africa remains at the centre of policy making and
only expediently accommodates input from non-state actors” (ibid.).
Thus, against the backdrop of the discussion in the preceding section, we turn to
Chakravartty and Sarikakis (cited in Moyo and Chuma, 2010:2) who argue that in
relation to globalisation and media policy, the role of the state ‘has been transformed [but]
is not necessarily diminished in the face of globalisation’”.
Compounding the issue, we consider an additional role played by the state: that of the
state’s surveillance of ‘forces’ (or institutions) opposing government policies and
ideologies, thus exposing themselves to the risk of having their activities covertly
monitored. Costanza-Chock (2004:289) reaches the conclusion that social movement
organisations [i.e. NPOs and NGOs] stand to have their efforts of social development and
advancement frustrated by governments that seek to “repress” their efforts within a
democracy. Therefore, Costanza-Chock (ibid.) supports the importance of socially-
oriented civic organisations and the need for these entities to “push for comprehensive
privacy legislation both at national and transnational levels”.
In South Africa, one such entity that has taken up the ‘fight’ in this regard is known as
The Right to Know Campaign (R2K). R2K’s vision sets out to retain rights to free access
to information and “to share [that] information”; both of these being rights that are
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“fundamental to any democracy that is open, accountable, participatory and responsive
[thereby enabling it to] deliver the social, economic and environmental justice” needed to
facilitate open, free and fair democratic debate in South Africa (Right2Know Campaign,
2014). Of particular note in relation to policy formulation, we observe that one of the
R2K’s primary principles insists upon a free and diverse media (Right2Know Campaign,
2014, emphasis mine):
Media freedom must be defended and advanced in law, policy and practice as
demanded inter alia by section 16 of the Constitution of South Africa. Media
diversity must be extended so that everyone, in particular the socially and
economically marginalised, shall have a voice.
A further principle that is advanced by R2K is to retain the right of collective community
involvement. Meeting the basic needs of the people living in South Africa necessitates
regular social and economic development in South Africa. Without transparency in a
democracy, a community’s efforts that demand “political, social, economic and
environmental justice” (ibid.) is oftentimes hampered, or even entirely thwarted by ruling
authorities. For this reason, policy formulation that threatens to curtail these forms of
community involvement is continually being opposed in South Africa.
A final example illustrating the uncomfortable tensions that exist in the aforementioned
regard is cited to highlight the ongoing ambivalence surrounding South Africa’s
integrated National Development Plan (NDP). In a recent Mail & Guardian report,
authors Pillay and Letsoalo (2014:para. 5–6, emphasis mine) wrote, quoting President
Jacob Zuma when he said that:
“The NDP is ours. We worked on the agreements by the people of South Africa."
… [President Zuma] hinted there would be no major changes on economic
policies when the party launched its election manifesto on Saturday. Zuma said
the ANC would continue its approach of an inclusive economy. [However]
Cosatu's largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa,
has repeatedly criticised the NDP, saying it was similar to the Growth,
Employment and Redistribution Strategy introduced during former president
Thabo Mbeki's presidency in 1996.
Thus, it would seem, that tensions between state and non-state actors remain at uneasy
levels in South Africa.
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In a time of increased globalisation, the preceding discussion serves well to broadly
outline some of the primary threats and challenges currently being experienced in South
Media freedom, due to policy formulation threats, is under attack and ought to be stopped.
Otherwise, the socially and economically marginalised stand to lose their voice as well as
their collective right to participate in development projects and development policy
formulation in South Africa. A free media, functioning within a broader free and fair
democracy, is at risk of being curtailed by the South African state-media apparatus. This
being the case, the hope of seeing a strengthening democracy and burgeoning
development agenda will seemingly not take center-stage in South Africa for some time
The private media and many non-state actors’ increasing struggle to retain their rights to
free access to information and to freely share that information—which is so fundamental
to any open, accountable, participatory and responsive democracy—may see the delivery
of social, economic and environmental justice being severely thwarted in time to come. In
addition, commercialisation of the media directly opposes developmental objectives, with
capitalistic motives of profit making directly opposing the support and advancement of a
Consequently, for the socially and economically marginalised, important issues of
developmental priority may never be attended to or remedied, because the net effect of it
all could be this: “the socially and economically marginalised”, will lose their voice
(Right2Know Campaign, 2014).
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