Towards 2000: independent media in southern Africa
by Guy Berger, Rhodes University, Journalism & Media Studies
19 April 1997, Buntstift conference. Institute for Advancement of Journalism, Johannesburg.
Perhaps history in general is speeding up globally. Perhaps it is just the momentous changes in Southern Africa in the mid-1990s that make everything seem so busy, so changing before our very eyes. Even our categories like "independent" media are mutating and cannot be taken as fixed in meaning. It is easy to get swept up in these rapids of transformation; more difficult to find a viewing point from which one can get a fix on some of the swirling trends, rather than disperse your focus across the whole morass. Such a vantage place for the purposes of this seminar can be pinpointed in terms of the business of the day: how does Bundstift's media funding promote political education for democracy in the coming years? Bearing in mind this position, our gaze receives some direction. And we are able to apply criteria to what we look at, and to its likely significance. I must apologise in advance, however, for the South African centrism of this paper: if there is one thing that needs support in the region, it is networking, research and information-sharing on the situation in all the countries in region. Misa does great work here, but more needs to be done.
"Independent" can mean many different things in the ways we use it and it is worth untangling some of these senses. On the political front, we need to distinguish between "independent" in the sense of party politics, and "independent" in the sense of being not controlled by government or state. We also need to distinguish between political independence (of any kind), and economic independence. And within economic independence, let us make clear if we are talking about independence from concentrations of economic power (as regards independent ownership - and as regards degrees of operation like wire services, printing and distribution), or whether we mean independent in the sense of self-sufficient in the market (as opposed to dependence on non-market funding). Finally, we need to talk about independence in relation to editorial decision-making: whether a medium - be it a state-owned radio station, or a corporate-owned newspaper, a community-owned magazine, or an organisation's inhouse newsletter - allows for editorial independence. And within this category, do we mean independence for journalists to make any decision they wish, independently of the canons of journalistic ethics - or is it an independence within this broad (and contested) area? In other words, where does the independence end and where should it end?
"Independent" media for current purposes thus needs to be interrogated: "independent" of what? The answers to this question give us a "negative" definition: tell us what "independent media" is not - such as, it is not government-controlled. But we also need to go further and try to produce a more positive definition: something that will give us the content of what it means to be independent for something, i.e. to do something, as opposed to just being defined in relation to from something.
2. Political independence.
Let us begin by looking at "independent" in terms of the broadly political sense of being "independent' of the major centres of power in a society. For people with a pluralist agenda, who value a dispersion of power across several sites, "independent" means independent of concentrated power, particularly the power of the state and - to a slightly lesser extent - the power of mega-corporations. For other, it means independent of organised political forces, whether in government or in opposition.
"Independent" in this sense is not always a "good thing", depending on your political point of view. Obviously, for governments and big business, it means a lack of control which in turn represents an absence of a potential lever at best, and a possible threat at worst. But also for other contenders for power, "independent" may not be "a good thing". Swapo, for instance, had some problems with the alternative press within Namibia during the struggle for liberation in that country. Political groupings like the PAC in South Africa saw the alternative press here as being far from independent. They regarded them instead as being mouthpieces for the ANC which gave unfair treatment to their own organisation. Barney Desai of the PAC regularly used to challenge me on this when I was editor of South, where we used to claim to be "the Cape's only independent weekly". So, what is meant by "independent" varies according to the viewer's interests and claims, the criteria that are used for defining "independent" in relation to a particular force. And whether it is a "good thing" also varies. Desai was unhappy that South was independent of the PAC's sphere of influence; still he probably would have been pleased that Cape Town, where South published, had a voice that was independent of the white establishment even though not pro-PAC. The point is that we should not necessarily assume that "independent" is necessarily and intrinsically a "good thing" for everyone: it depends on where you are coming from. And in its various senses of being independent of a range of forces, independence can be both good and bad.
Sticking with the political, "independent" in the sense of being "independent of" or "independent from" something, the question arises as to how broadly one can define this. Certainly in terms of South African history, in the 1970s and up to the early 1990s, independent media was seen by the democratic movement as that which was outside of the direct political control of the apartheid regime, and outside the four big companies that controlled the press. One effect of this definition was that when the Media Institute of Southern Africa was set up in South Africa in 1994, it steered clear of inviting in members of the mainstream press. In contrast, elsewhere in Southern Africa, "independent" was all media that fell outside of government control. This understanding of "independent" in South Africa was not universally shared: some people believed that the Sowetan and City Press papers for instance were properly on the independent side of the country's great political dividing line, even if their ownership companies were not. Some people said that it was wrong to lump even the English-language mainstream white papers in with the ruling establishment: with exceptions like the pro-apartheid Citizen, they were independent of the broederbond and military axis that ran the country. Finally, some people also challenged the self-proclaimed "independent" press, saying that politically, it was as partisan and aligned as the SABC - his master's voice - just in a different direction.
So we have had several interpretations of "independent" in recent years. Which one is right is really a question of political analysis and political persuasion. What is the situation today? The answer depends partly on one's political perspective, but it is fair to say that in South Africa at least, "independent" media is a far wider category today, than it used to be - at least as far as the power establishment goes. Arguably, most - if not all - the mainstream press in South Africa is more independent of governmental power than previously, simply because there is a new political establishment in power - and an establishment of which it is no longer really a part. Even that part of the press owned by a company headed by Cyril Ramaphosa is a step removed from the political power centre, reflecting his own political marginalisation and exit from politics into business.
The media landscape in South Africa also now includes not only government media (somewhat shrunken, compared to days of old) and media that is independent of it, but a new terrain in between the two. This is the sector of independent public broadcasting services, but because it has public funding and a public mandate, it would be wrong to lump the sector in with private sector (or community media). While the SABC has a credible, governing board that is independent of government preferences or party-politics (although less so now than when its predecessor was appointed), the institution is constrained by its public sector mandate and has far less independence than say a private radio or newspaper which has much more free rein (within of course the constraints of its market and ownership structures) to take a particular political approach. Pr
I distinguish here a medium whose staffers voluntarily choose to support a particular political force: this is different to a medium where there is no choice. The products may be similar in terms of ultimate content, but the one is independent and the other is not. The independent one may change its position, as even The Sun in the UK now supports the Labour Party; the controlled one cannot.
"Independent" media, in the political sense, and as used in this paper, therefore excludes any media operating under the political control of the state or political force. This is not a legal status as much as a practical concern: the papers owned by the purportedly independent Zimbabwe Newspapers Trust do not count as independent.
3. Economic independence.
Moving on from "independent" in the sense of politically independent, let us look at the question of economic independence.
Within "independent" media, there is another category: community media, as distinct from commercial media. (Some people like the NCRF use the term "independent media" for commercial media - here I locate both community and commercial within the overall category of independent). Both community and commercial media are independent of direct government control, but there are important differences between them. There is nothing per se which dictates that community or commercial intrinsically goes along with a particular kind of dependence or independence. One can have a medium that is self-sufficient in terms of covering its costs through its trading, and this can be community-owned and -operated, or privately owned and operated. One can have privately owned enterprises that own their own means of production, and others that depend on the facilities of others.
In practice, however, we can point to a number of trends. We have, of course, in SA today, a commercial media company actually titled "Independent Newspapers". Their resourcing comes from their market operations, which is different to many community media, who remain in practice funded by mechanisms outside of the market (i.e. grants). The result is that while both may be politically independent, the former is typically dependent on the market place as well as the owners (with particular characteristics regarding race, gender, location and nationality). The latter are characteristically dependent on donor foundations, community owners and the staff who work in them. In each case, the dependence impacts on the role of the medium.
It is also relevant to see to what extent a commercial medium is independently owned, like the Natal Witness, owned by the Craib family, or owned by another company and counting as what we might call corporate media. Some would argue that the commercial independence of a paper that is part of a wider economic grouping, is more limited than one which is not. On the other hand, a paper like the Cape Times - while having to dance to the tune of Independent newspapers - is only kept going because it can depend on the company (for a time at least) to cross-subsidise its losses by drawing from the more profitable Cape Argus. Independence for the Times might well mean death.
4. Editorial independence.
The points raised above indicate that there is a lot more to conceptualising "independent" media than may first meet the eye. We have covered the complexity of political independence and economic independence. Let us now turn to the last area: editorial independence - something that is linked to political and economic considerations, but which also does not automatically go hand in hand with particular types of these. This is where we come to the pertinent questions for this paper: (1) how significant is it whether a medium is more or less independent or dependent? (2) to what extent can dependence can be curbed or eliminated, so as to enhance independence? Embedded in these is the matter of how the present mix of independent-dependent impacts on political education for democracy, and on how things may evolve in the future.
A medium can never entirely be independent of its context: of who resources and staffs it and who it attempts to communicate to. It is also unlikely that a successful medium can survive in a democracy in utter disregard for editorial values and journalistic ethics. Media is accountable in very diverse ways to rather powerful stakeholders, who include government, owners, staffers and audiences. The question is the degree to which this impacts on the actual production by the staffers and emerges in the final product.
To be independent in terms of democracy, means to be politically independent of the government of the day. This is not incompatible with operating with the law, assuming it is a democratic legal dispensation. It helps, of course, to be economically independent of the government too - and not require favours or licences to make ends meet. Beyond this, a wide spectrum of degrees between political and economic independence and dependence is quite possible - indeed, if democracy implies pluralism, then the more diversity on the media landscape, the better. This assumes that these are independent of each other too, and it assumes that this is a valued state of affairs (in contrast, an agenda that stresses nation-building might well oppose such a fragmented situation). As noted, one needs to see how this impacts on the production and on the product.
It would make little sense, seen from the point of view of pluralistic democracy, to romanticise one form independence over and above another - eg. treating he independence of staffers as more important than the independence of owners from government or political parties. The whole point is to have a spectrum of media where some media have staffers who have (and struggle for) independence (guarded in the highest form with an editorial charter), and some media have little staff independence, (and a spectrum that, realistically, will display changing degrees of financial self-sufficiency). In other words, for example, a given newspaper may represent largely the views of its owner, another may represent more the views of its staffers. A third may pander directly to the views of the audience. And a fourth may support the views of the government or an opposition party. As long as none of these newspapers is coerced to support the views of political forces, one may welcome them all as players in the democratic field of independent media.
5. South Africa's particular (peculiar?) media history.
I turn now to the particularities of South Africa. Because what matters here is how one gets that broad sweep of independent media voices in a situation where you have had very specific media-haves and media-have-nots. A couple of years back, this question would have been relatively easy to answer: the media was owned by whites, controlled by whites, mainly staffed by whites, and its content served white audiences. Any programme aimed at media's role in political education for democracy would have stressed the need to transform this situation. Two thrusts would have suggested themselves: (1) change the existing media - increase black participation in ownership, staffing and market orientation; (2) encourage new media with a similar profile. From the point of view of this paper, moves to promote independent media in South Africa had to be bound up with racial transformation of the media landscape. Gender and urban/rural issues have not been as high on the agenda, and in many cases have actually fallen off altogether.
Some history and some analysis of the present is called for here. Test your knowledge with the following quiz:
1. Before white domination destroyed the economic base for a thriving black press, a number of celebrated black publications existed independently of white capital between the 1880s up until the 1950s. Name one.
2. English-language newspapers in South African history up until the 1980s have been owned by mining-linked companies, or by white families. Name one paper in each category.
3. Afrikaans-language papers were closely tied to the political agendas within the Afrikaner nationalist movement. What kind of institutions have owned these papers?
4. Name a publication that contributed to political democracy in the 1950s.
5. Name a publication that contributed to political democracy in the 1960s.
6. Name a publication banned in the 1970s.
7. Which South African publication was set up secretly by the Vorster government in the 1970s?
8. Journalist Thami Mazwai was jailed in the 1970s for what "offence" related to his journalism?
9. TV came late to South Africa, because Pretoria initially feared that it could weaken their political control. What year was TV introduced?
10. Radio stations were geared to promoting rural, ethnic cultures amongst black South Africans: name the biggest of these.
11. The "independent" bantustan set up broadcasters that were far from being politically independent - with one radio station in the 1970s being something of an exception. Which was it?
12. A number of white editors riled their managements, and their white readers and advertisers, by encouraging strong, independent journalism. Name one in the 1960s, one in the 1970s and one in the 1980s.
13. Name three alternative publications in the 1980s.
14. Name one of the illegal ANC mediums in the 1980s.
1. Imvo Zabantsundu, Ilanga, The Worker (ICU), Congress-movement publications like Abantu-Batho, The Guardian and its predecessors.
2. In the family category, the Natal Witness, the Natal Mercury, the Daily Dispatch. Most other titles were part of Argus and SAAN (linked to JCI).
3. Afrikaner savings institutions, notably Sanlam.
4. The Guardian. Torchlight (?)
5. Drum, Rand Daily Mail
6. World, Weekend World, Post, Sunday Post.
7. The Citizen, Pace magazine.
8. Section 205: he refused to testify as a state witness.
9. 1972 (?)
10. Radio Zulu (now called Ukhonzi?)
11. Capital Radio
12. 60s: John Sutherland (Evening Post), Lawrence Gandar (RDM), 70s: Raymond Louw; 80s: Allister Sparks, Tony Heard.
13. New Nation, Weekly Mail, South, New African, Speak, Wip, Labour Bulletin etc.
14. Sechaba, Mayibuye, Radio Freedom.
What this brief historical review reveals is a mediascape with some features that stand out as fiercely independent of government in particular and white domination in general, but which also paid a price for this. These included both white and black journalists - in print, broadcast, alternative, mainstream and illegal press.
There are other parts of the spectrum, notably in broadcast and the Afrikaans press, where there was no independence to speak of. Stories of how PW Botha would call up SABC and dictate the news are legendary. And this was even despite numerous broeders and military intelligence agents already in the apparatus. On the Afrikaner press, there is a celebrated case of an editor (later a cabinet minister) who spoke on a platform for the NP on one occasion, and wrote in his editorial column the next "As I said last night, ...". Elsewhere in this mediascape, one had media that was not especially politically independent nor dependent, but which broadly reproduced the "normal" conditions of white society and its apartheid foundation.
The NP is fond of saying that its political programme was to extend to blacks the democracy enjoyed by whites. What is a lie is that whites did enjoy a democracy. In fact, they enjoyed the fruits of apartheid - which, judging by voting patterns, was more than sufficient compensation for the deficit in their democratic rights to a free press and an impartial public broadcaster. In fact, when push came to shove, while Perskor was happy to subsidise the loss-making Citizen indefinitely because of its perceived political value, there was no sympathy in English capital for maintaining the unprofitable Rand Daily Mail for its oppositional political value. One of the democratic giants on the SA media landscape went to press for the last time in 1985.
What this historical review also underlines is the different roles played by the various stakeholders that impact on media independence. Ownership was key to the independence of the alternative press, and to the demise of independent voices like the RDM. Ownership was
key to the dependence of the Afrikaans press and the public broadcaster. On the other hand, editorial staff were key to the fact that despite owners, some media achieved political independence of the ruling white consensus: for instance, on the RDM itself, on Capital Radio. Audiences were also a factor: black South Africa bought the World and the Post in increasing numbers proportional to the extent of politically independent coverage in those papers. The conservatism of white and coloured audience placed a fetter on the growth and extent of economic independence in papers like the Mail and Guardian and South. Very importantly, audiences also made a mockery of the lack of independence in media like radio: government control here did nothing except destroy the credibility of this medium. At the end of the day, black South Africans - despite being fed apartheid propaganda in the media most widespread in their communities - were not taken in. Had they been, we would not be living in a democracy today.
Government, of course, was the primary stakeholder impacting on independence - with an arsenal of legislation and intimidation, direct control of broadcasting, and direct intervention through secret projects like the Citizen. One might also, here, mention the carrots as well as the sticks: the printing contracts awarded to their supporters in the Afrikaans press, the flattery and blandishments of PW Botha's wooing the English speaking business community as a forerunner to the closure of the RDM.
Perhaps the most basic lesson to emerge from this, is that media is part of society. Some elements can be out of kilter with the powers that be and the status quo. But in short it is hard to have a media dispensation that is part of political education for democracy, when you don't have democracy in the society as such. Media keeps step with society to a great extent. What is happening now, however, is a vast change in society - and that makes possible vast changes in the media too. This then brings us to the present.
7. Where we are now:
Again a quizz is a good way to test one as to our knowledge and understanding of the fast-moving media terrain around us.
1. Name two newspaper houses with foreign ownership.
2. Name two foreign initiatives wanting to enter the newspaper business.
3. Name a radio station with foreign participation.
4. How many community radio stations are operating?
5. Name three privatised radio stations.
6. Name one newly licensed commercial radio station.
7. Name two black organisations with a stake in commercial radio.
8. Who owns the Sunday Times, Daily Dispatch and EP Herald?
9. Who owns the Citizen?
10. Who owns the Cape Times and Cape Argus, and the Mercury and the Daily News?
11. Who is involved with satellite TV services in South Africa?
12. How many South Africans read newspapers (in terms of %)?
13. What is the difference between the IA. and SATRA in terms of independence?
14. What local content quotas has the IA. prescribed for the SABC?
15. Company making the most inroads into newspaper production?
16. What downsizing is SABC contemplating?
17. Name two South African publications on the Internet.
18. Thabo Mbeki's office is considering a report that recommends streamlining government communications and that a Media Development Agency be set up to provide funds for media diversity. What is the report?
19. Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the SA bill of rights, but with some exceptions: what are these?
20. Do we in South Africa still have a censor board?
21.Can journalists still be forced to disclose their sources?
22. Name four important organisations on the current media landscape.
23. Name four significant features on the contemporary training landscape.
1. Independent, Mail and Guardian, Business Day and Financial Mail.
2. Malaysian Straits Times, Swedish publishers of Dagens Industrii (?), Dolphin (The Asian).
3. Jacaranda (?), Classic FM
4. About 80
5. Highveld, KFM, Algoa, East Coast, Jacaranda
6. Classic FM, Cape Town talkradio (702 connection), Jozi, Voice of Soweto
7. Sactwu, Mineworkers,
8. National Empowerment Consortium, chaired by Cyril Ramaphosa
9. Perskor (incl Kagiso Trust)
10. Independent newspapers
11. SABC (analogue), Multi-choice: DSTV (digital).
12. 14 %
13. IBA is independent of Department of Communications, SATRA falls within the department.
14. 20% rising to 30% (?)
15. Caxtons - freesheets and paid.
16. Shed SAPA and symphony orchestra, retrench 1400 staffers, drop GMSA, close production arm and outsource
17. Business Day, FM, Star, Cape Argus, Inc., Beeld, Burger.
19. Hate speech that is likely to cause harm; under a state of emergency.
20. Yes, under the new Publications Act. But its powers are much curbed as compared to the previous model.
21. Yes:section 205 still exists, although subpoenas issued to journalists under this in the Pagad case last year were withdrawn after a press outcry.
22. National Community Media Forum (NCMF), National Community Radio Forum (NCRF), Open Window Network (OWN), Community print sector of South Africa (Copsa), Independent Media Diversity Trust (Imdt), Print Media Association (PMA), Press Council, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Independent Producers Organisation (IPO), SouthAfrican National Editors Forum ( SANEF), Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ), Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Black Editors Forum (BEF), Media Monitoring Group, Media Peace Trust.
23. Independent's "fast track" course; IAJ, SABC intent to set up cadet school, Rhodes' New Media Lab, trainers are part of SANEF.
To give some more detail on things, it is worth drawing on some data presented recently to a workshop of the parliamentary committee on communications by Robin Macgregor, and Jos Kuper. (See attached slides).
7. Looking ahead: independent media and the next three years.
Taking these ownership and penetration patterns into account, plus some of the features highlighted in the quiz, the following can be concluded about the present and the future. As far as independence in terms of government goes, this is not a real problem for most media in South Africa, although the dependence of the SABC on government for subsidy has had a negative effect on the corporation's activities. There is also the question of whether the IBA will lose some of its independence when it merges with SATRA. Despite some leanings in government to try to control media more, or at least to bring verbal pressure to bear, it is unlikely that major steps will be taken to lessen the press freedom dispensation now enjoyed. On the other hand, if the media itself does not push the issue, it is unlikely that this freedom is going to be deepened in the form of freedom of information legislation (the Open Democracy Bill), or Section 205, or a subsidised environment (and entity such as the MDA). Government proclivities might be less to interfere with existing media, and more to intervene by going into the media business itself - but the costs of entry here, and the low priority accorded to communications (notwithstanding a budget this year of R45m for the inept propaganda apparatus, SA Communications Service), mean this scenario is unlikely.
The same situation does not, sadly, prevail in many neighbouring countries in southern Africa where political control by governments compromise much media independence. However, there is some light in terms of political independence for media: community radio has been licensed in Namibia, Zambia and Mozambique. While Zambia's press regime is getting tighter, Namibia and Mozambique are open and in the latter case, opening up further.
What about economic independence? Certainly, the landscape as regards newspaper ownership is now populated by several centres, independent of each other. The result has not been much competition as yet (except for the Star and the Citizen, which is a longstanding contest), but one can point to Business Report taking on Business Day, and the Sunday Independent taking on the Sunday Times. A new envisaged tabloid by Independent will take on the Sowetan, once the latter is sold fully to TML. However, in most cases, the market is carved up, and there are not life and death battles between independents.
So far, although there has been unbundling and deconcentration, and black empowerment in terms of ownership, the extent of the newspaper landscape is still small. There have been few new titles launched, and fewer aimed at black audiences (except for the conversion of Drum magazine from a monthly into a weekly). In the meantime, many general interest newspaper circulations have fallen, and look set to continue the decline - which may impact on their profitability and economic independence in the medium term. (In the short term, falling circulations have meant higher profits, because print runs are lower, and more select upmarket audiences can command higher advertising rates). As a black middle class grows in leaps and bounds, so however the market for newspapers there (and the requisite advertising support) ought to expand too. But this is not a given.
While foreign ownership in print in South Africa may in legal terms be total (unlike broadcast where it has to be a minority stake - 20% maximum), it is unlikely that this will be the case in South Africa in the next few years. There are more likely to be partnerships with domestic players. Independent Newspapers for instance has upped its stake in the SA operation, but wants to get the remaining shares (currently held by Mutual) owned by black partners. Foreign ownership in print seems set to increase, bringing with it new investment, and in many cases, new opportunities for black participation in ownership and black advancement in newsrooms. Such ownership may impact on independence in the sense of protecting local journalists from domestic political pressures, and indeed may help keep a publication alive for democratic reasons (like the Guardian UK has done with the Mail and Guardian). On the other hand, concern to protect investments may incline foreign owners to want to tone down the political independence of their newspapers, as has been the case with Tiny Rowland in Africa and Rupert Murdoch (in broadcasting) in China.
Where economic independence of print is running in trouble, and likely to continue, is in new, small, community-oriented publications. These are extremely difficult to make viable, given the lack of capital, poor economies of scale, and - especially - inadequate strategic, editorial and business skills. To date, despite commendable efforts on the parts of those involved, plus their backers like the IMDT and foreign funders, success in securing economic independence has been elusive - and may well remain so, without major initiatives.
Economic independence in broadcasting has more going for it. SABC will find its level, which will probably be a lot lower than it is now - and may in three years time include only two channels. As such, however it is likely to require government financing only on selected projects (like provincial broadcasting and educational broadcasting). A newly licensed commercial TV channel will, by definition, need to be economically self-sufficient, and to do so may well create opportunities for independent producers and for (regional audiences too). While it would seem to make sense for SABC to cease trying to compete with commercial TV, and rather to complement it, and to collaborate more with community broadcasting, this is unlikely to happen. Nonetheless, community TV may get a look in, in terms of windows in either commercial or PBS TV.
Economic independence in radio also has more going for it than print - and indeed, the growth of radio and TV will draw advertising away from print more and more. The privatised and newly-commercial stations are likely to be self-sufficient, but one price of this is that they will go for audiences that are wealthy enough to attract advertising. For the mass of poor people in this country, community radio (alongside SABC radio), not commercial radio, is a better prospect. However, community radio stations share the same kind of handicaps as community print - a lack of capital, strategy, skills. In several cases, their audiences are just too poor or rural to attract advertising. These stations will only survive with funding. Where this comes from may impact on their programming and independence.
Much the same applies to new media, in particular the Internet. Unless a major government policy ensures the spread of this technology to schools, post-offices, libraries and the like, it is unlikely that the majority of media-poor people will gain access. There is much talk about "multi-purpose community centres" offering such facilities, but these will not be economically independent.
Finally, I turn to the independence of media staffers. The media unions have become much more union-like in character, and nowadays focus on wages and working conditions rather than on the amount of editorial independence their members enjoy. An organisation like SANEF, which is working towards an industry-wide editorial charter, protecting journalists' independence from owners (but also making them dependent on a code of conduct), may slowly have an impact, as may other pressure groups. One would expect, however, the new owners to begin to put their stamp upon their companies' editorial policies over time, and journalistic independence will need to operate within this (contested) terrain. Black advancement in journalism will continue, strengthening the capacity of the media to execute and defend editorial independence against attacks by politicians and apathy of alienated consumers who find no home in white-oriented content.
Independent media - according to political, economic and editorial criteria - are booming in South and southern Africa, compared to the past. But in terms of the potential, this is early days yet. The "boom" has barely scratched the surface. As society changes, and new audiences grow which can support media in the marketplace, so one will see a growth of independent media. But that media will only survive if it recognises its dependence on serving these constituencies. This does not mean media service that panders to the prejudices of the audiences, but one which elevates and educates in addition to informing and entertaining. It is not at all a foregone conclusion that independent media will do such a thing. In most market-oriented countries, the mass of media simply trails the market. In a new democracy like South Africa, this is not enough - even if it is a safe way to go.
Instead, what is needed in this country, and the Southern African region, is a vibrant independent media that earns its spurs by helping to consolidate - and deepen - democratic characteristics. This means an independent media that presents a wide range of views and services a wide range of audiences. It means an independent media that keeps an eye on government, (but also praises where praise is due), that maintains some distance from corporate owners, that campaigns for freedom of expression and information, and an environment that helps new players enter the market through measures like a Media Development Agency. It further means a media that fosters in its audience a culture of appreciation of the value of independent media. Part of this is a media that invests in its own staff - and pays them enough to keep them from leaving to join government or corporate communications. It is a media that invests in journalism training and in the creativity borne of journalistic independence. Without this kind of independent media, South Africa's democracy will be fragile form, devoid of critical content.
In conclusion, this is the value of independent media for South and Southern Africa. It is to have media that is not only independent in the sense of being independent from certain forces, but independent for something. That "something" is independence for independence sake. Why? Because a democratic society is driven by differences, while an authoritarian situation abhors diversity. Independence is what distinguishes the two.