WATCH: Media diversity - are the demographics of the country accurately reflected?

By Samkelo Mtshali Time of article published Oct 21, 2020

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Cape Town - Media diversity in South Africa has been put under the microscope this week as the Fourth Estate commemorates Media Freedom Day.

Black Wednesday commemorates the events of 19 October 1977, when the apartheid government’s security forces cracked down on journalists and activists who were opposed to the apartheid.

Independent Media hosted a webinar facilitated by Cape Times editor Siyavuya Mzantsi on Wednesday that looked at the state of diversity in media.

Dr Kate Skinner, Executive Director of Sanef, said that Black Wednesday was a day of significance because of all the publications that were closed by the apartheid government.

“If we look back at that particular time and where we are now, of course, we have made massive strides. There are no journalists who have been jailed in South Africa, we have an incredible constitution that protects media freedom, protects freedom of expression, protects and promotes access to information,” said Skinner.

She added that while there had been huge strides made, one area of concern for Sanef was the issue of the financial sustainability of the media and the numbers of jobs that had been lost and publications that had been closed before Covid-19 and during the lockdown period.

“Looking at Black Wednesday, one of the big issues was around sustainability because media sustainability issues really impact on media diversity issues and unfortunately shrink media diversity and that is another area we’re very concerned about,” Skinner said.

Slindile Khanyile, former Isolezwe editor and founder of Umbele Likhanyile Media, said that although contemporary media acknowledged all the strides that had been made since the apartheid era, things had become even more complicated.

“If you look at how we have to tell the story now, it gets very complex because, on the one hand, you want to contribute in supporting the vision of the government, for example, where you say you still need to have transformation and all these social ills that we still have to fight against which is inequality, poverty, unemployment and government programmes.

“But on the other, you also do have the responsibility to hold the very same government to account, even though the governing party is a liberation movement and one of the challenges that we have experienced in doing that, where we hold the government to account, there’s this notion that we are meant to turn a blind eye to the transgressions of the government purely because the ruling party is the liberation movement,” said Khanyile.

She added that if the media was to follow such a script, it would not only be betraying what contemporary South Africa and the generation that fought for media freedom during the apartheid era was about but that this approach would also be a betrayal of the audience that the media today expects to consume its product.

“The question of diversity remains a critical one because any society or any dominant narrative in society reflects the power relations and you can see in the way stories are told that poverty, inequality and unemployment, those three ills, impact the majority of the people in this country, which are black people, but those stories are not told daily, are not told aggressively,” said Khanyile.

Sandile Mdadane, Sunday Tribune editor, said that despite the country’s demographics being easy to note, those who called the shots were those who controlled the purse strings leading to the majority of the country’s population, demographically, being reduced to a voiceless sector.

“But, in reality, there’s nobody who is voiceless. I think we need to disabuse ourselves from labelling certain sectors as being voiceless, we don’t have such but we just have a section of the population that is neglected and neglected wilfully,” said Mdadane.

He added that it appeared at times as though there was a need for financial muscle for people to be listened to and to be able to tell their story.

“I think the newsroom across groups should really look at itself and wonder if it's really telling the story that the people need to read because it seems like there’s this over-emphasis in media organisations wanting to cater to only the market that you’ve targeted and there are many fault lines with regards to that approach as the certain things that get overlooked quite easily,” Mdadane said.

He added that this made it easy for the corporates and the powers that be in politics or government to seek to dictate the agenda of the newsroom.

“I will give an example. As we are commemorating Black Wednesday today, the reality is that the relationship between government and the media will always be not a very smooth one because of the differing interests but, it doesn’t mean that government should treat the media as if it is in the opposition benches,” added Mdadane.


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