Johannesburg - Self-aggrandisement and the concentration of media ownership in a few hands came under scathing attack this week at a conference convened to probe media diversity since 1994.
And if you thought SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng was an untouchable who had carte blanche from the ruling ANC and its Alliance partners to do as he pleased at the public broadcaster, you have another think coming.
The SABC under Motsoeneng came under heavy criticism from the South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande in his opening address at the two-day media transformation conference held at the OR Tambo International Airport in Kempton Park.
The summit, convened by the SACP in collaboration with other stakeholders including role players in the media industry, is focusing on developing a programme of action to ensure media diversity.
It was attended by among others newspaper editors, media unions, Independent Communications Authority of SA and members of the Press Council.
According to the SACP, the meeting also sought to develop initiatives to “achieve demonopolisation of the press and other important media platforms, including anti-monopoly measures, media accountability and charter”, among others.
Like Motsoeneng, the self-styled proponent of media regulation, Nzimande advocates this too but qualifies his as “content regulation with teeth – regulation backed by statute but rigorously independent, as demanded by the Media Charter”.
Without mentioning names, Nzimande said of the SABC in his speech: “It stands today as a stark example of what happens when we leave the media in the hands of those only interested in personal self-accumulation, including obscene increases in salaries for incompetent and unqualified individuals.”
This was in reference to the recent announcement that Motsoeneng’s salary had soared from R2.8 million to R3.7m (R308 000 a month) in under a year. This quantum leap puts him in a bracket above President Jacob Zuma.
But in one area that Nzimande differs sharply with President Zuma, he does not mince his words about the rot at the SABC which he contends “should be a source of pride but is instead one of growing shame and embarrassment”.
“It has indisputably been hijacked by a tiny cabal of self-promoting individuals, abusing political access to materially advance themselves, at the expense of the SABC itself, and of the millions of people it should serve.”
He added: “And the sources of some of the most problematic challenges facing the public broadcaster emanate from a partnership with Naspers, the Broederbond offshoot that stands astride our media like a colossus.
“As I address you, the Competition Tribunal is considering whether the partnership between this cabal in the SABC and Naspers gives Naspers such a degree of control over the SABC that it can be legally described as ‘a merger’.
“These things paint a depressing picture. We have the responsibility and the opportunity today to do something about it – to seize the spear and relaunch the struggle to achieve in South Africa the diverse, dynamic and vibrant media our people deserve.”
He was equally derisive of “the startling extent to which South Africa’s media is concentrated in so few hands”.
Nzimande blames it all on one media house: “What is particularly horrifying is that 21 years into democracy, the organisation that has the most influence about what our media reports and how it reports is a company formed by the people who established the Broederbond as a propaganda vehicle for racial supremacy and capitalist domination.
“It is still, today, able to secure political influence in a manner that appears to be corrupting our democratic project and derailing public interest policy implementation.
“We therefore ask this conference to agree a programme of action to end, forever, the monopoly influence in our media,” Nzimande said.
While the English and Afrikaans- language newspapers were bleeding audiences, “our black press barons”, said Nzimande, “often from within the ranks of our own movement have done almost nothing, if anything at all, to meet this desperate and urgent need”.
“The SACP position paper and the Media Charter both recognise that the heart of any debate on media must be about content and messaging that is in line with the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of our people,” Nzimande concluded.
The summit was expected to produce late yesterday afternoon a draft declaration, to discuss and adopt the final media transformation declaration in an open session, which was expected to be closed by Nzimande. - The Sunday Independent