Media Landscape Essay
Write an essay of 1200 words (approximately), in which you contextualise the contemporary South African radio landscape, and analyse and contrast the news content produced by two of the following radio stations – SAfm (public service), 702 (commercial) and Bush Radio (community).
The South African radio landscape refers to three tiers of distinctive radio stations: the public tier, the commercial tier and finally the community tier. I will examine a radio branch of the SABC, SAfm, which falls under the public station tier, with the aim to serve the public interest and build a democracy. This station consists of both a commercial broadcasting and a public broadcasting sector with the public broadcaster’s core business being to deliver a “variety of high quality programmes and services through television and radio that informs, educates, entertains and supports the public at large” (www.sabc.co.za/about). The next examinable station is 702, a commercial station, whose main aim is to sell audiences to advertisers thus categorizing it as part of the profit driven arena. Most commercial stations’ content is musically dense, however, some are talk stations such as 702 and Cape Talk. This tier also includes stations which were sold off by the SABC, such as Algoa FM and Highveld Stereo. All content on these stations is commercially driven. The final tier includes stations such as Bush Radio, which fall under the community radio station umbrella. This tier aims to serve the public within specific communities such as geographical communities, communities of interest and cultural communities. The main foci include grassroots issues such as development and transformation. The communities in question are directly involved in the production process and the station is accountable to the community regarding all aspects. Shortly after the first democratic elections in 1994 the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) was formed to regulate the country’s broadcasting industry. This sector was previously controlled by the government’s Department of Home Affairs but with the introduction of the regulator, independence was constitutionally guaranteed (www.nab.org.za/broadcast). The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) was established in 2000 to monitor compliance with license terms and conditions, develop regulations the three sectors, plan and manage the radio frequency spectrum as well as protect consumers of the provided products and services (www.icasa.org.za).
Each and every radio station follows a different institutional context and these differences are particularly evident when considering a community station in comparison to a commercial station. The two stations in particular that I will be examining are Bush Radio, a Cape Town based community station, which has been running since the late 1980s, and Talk Radio 702, a commercial station produced in and broadcast to the greater Gauteng province. The license agreements implemented by the IBA and ICASA affect the ways in which the stations produce news, the type of news they produce as well as the audiences the stations provide content for.
The production of news at these two stations is affected by numerous influences including editorial policies, newsroom operations and resources as well as the target and actual audiences. Bush Radio broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week and programmes in three languages: Xhosa, Afrikaans and English. This station covers both social and political developments and issues pertaining to the poorer community, which is their target audience. It runs upliftment projects and offers scholarships and training programmes to poor students living in and around the Cape Flats. By offering a day care centre for employees’ children, the station is able to maintain its staff quota of half female reporters, newsreaders, journalists etc.
Bush Radio receives 50% of its income from advertising, however, it declines proposals from alcohol and gambling companies as a way of helping the community overcome these problems. The advertising is not racist, sexist or discriminatory in any way, lending to its policy of free and fair broadcasting (Olorunnisola 2002, 133). The station does not accept sponsorship for the news bulletins, which add to fair content production as external influences are limited. The station is made up mostly of community members who form the core of Bush Radio, influencing what is produced and broadcast. This encourages news to be community based and comply with the audience members’ preferences which are distributed amongst different linguistic groups as well as LSMs and age groups (www.bushblog.co.za).
Talk Radio 702 is Johannesburg’s number-one current affairs and information station and offers an array of programming and phone-in debates. The station is owned by PRIMEDIA, a private company that was once listed on the JSE. The company is owned by Mineworks Investment Company and Krish Consortium, amongst others. The commercial station has a list of businesses, which cover advertising and content costs incurred by 702, including radio broadcasts and outdoor advertising located primarily in South Africa. The financial stronghold these companies have over the station potentially affects the content of the 5 minute news bulletins broadcast every hour, as news affecting these companies needs to be carefully censored to avoid conflicting ideologies. EyeWitness News is responsible for the production of news at 702, while desk reporters as well as those in the field on any given day have diary meetings to ensure that news gathering is efficient and economical while guaranteeing that stations belonging to the same news group do not produce duplicate information.
As a result of Bush Radio and Talk Radio 702’s categorical differences in compliance with the regulations of the South African radio landscape, one is able to analyse and compare the types of news bulletins each station produces with regard to their foci, technical capabilities and story treatment. The bulletins I will compare are the 5pm bulletins which were aired on 8 April 2010 from the community radio station as well as the commercial radio station.
As a result of the different target audiences each station has, the lead stories differ according to the news values which are prominent to most of the stations’ listeners. 702’s target audience falls in the higher LSM group and span across two provinces, namely Gauteng and the Western Cape (567 Cape Talk is Talk Radio 702’s sister-station). As a result of this, the lead story follows a non-province-specific beat and considers local news which affects both listener groups equally so as not to lose interest from either province. Bush Radio caters mainly to the poorer areas of Cape Town and provides entertainment and information for those living in the lower LSMs (www.bushblog.co.za). Bush Radio did not run the story covering Julius Malema’s statement regarding courts residing over political issues in their 5pm read because of monetary issues regarding the purchase of new recording equipment as well as a proximity issue e.g.: Malema may have been in Pretoria thus establishing an interview with him or even a live read would have been improbable. 702 uses the longest slot for the same story as their news bulletin is sponsored and time isn’t much of a constraint for the establishment. Bush Radio uses volunteers from the community whose training may also be limited with regard to interviews and sources. Bush Radio leads its bulletin with a provincial story about a major tourist attraction in Cape Town. The Robben Island Ferry has been a part of the City’s heritage for many years and this ‘feel good’ story will encourage the target audience, who live difficult lives in the Cape Flats, to enjoy the beauty of the city they live in and take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities their home holds. This story did not feature in the 702 news bulletin even though it catered for the station’s Western Cape based audience. The reason for this is the fact that the percentage of Western Cape listeners is so small in comparison to the number of Gauteng-based audience members.
When considering the scripting of each station’s news bulletins, one notices small differences in that 702 uses more aggressive language to describe stories and people that the private-owned station finds trivial – especially those relating to Julius Malema who has stood on the toes of many of the station’s reporters including Stephen Grotes. The on-scene reporter uses words such as “ploy” and “fight” when describing the ANC Youth League leader as well as the stance taken up by the ruling political party. Bush Radio’s scripting is slightly more neutral and the anchor’s vocabulary is very basic in keeping with the target audience’s general level of education.
The above essay allows for the comparison and understanding of the ways in which radio stations within each of the three tiers produce and broadcast news bulletins as well as the different influences which affect what is produced, when and for whom. The presence of the IBA as well as ICASA ensures that the three stations’ policies and production methods comply with the Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights.
The two radio stations outlined above have numerous fields which they are expected to adhere to in order to qualify as either a community radio station, like that of Bush Radio, or a commercial radio station, such as Talk Radio 702. The commercial tier aims to sell audiences to advertisers and is usually owned by private shareholders thus being a profit driven company such as 702. Bush Radio is a community radio station as it serves the local community surrounding it as well as building a strong, unique relationship with the Cape community. Its focus is development, transformation and reconciliation and is based on participatory production. These stations aid in the development of South Africa and its citizens and encourages respect and adherence to our Constitution; “an article of faith in the democracies of the kind we are venturing to create” (journalism.co.za).
• http://bushradio.wordpress.com/about/. Accessed on 29/04/10.
• http://www.journalism.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=204&Itemid=183. Accessed on 14/04/10.
• http://www.nab.org.za/broadcast.asp. Accessed on 14/05/10.
• Olorunnisola, A. (2002). Commutinity Radio: Participatory Communication in Postapartheid South Africa. Journal of Radio Studies, Volume 9, No 1. 126-145.
• http://www.sabc.co.za/portal/site/sabc/menuitem.7ddb6388f2d6e524bc5194f0064daeb9/. Accessed on 13/05/10.
Write a report of no more than 2000 words in which you critically reflect on your own production work in the third term, using the terms and tools you have been engaged in, in your radio and media studies course work.
Development journalism is an attempt to document conditions within a community in an effort to provide a larger audience with an understanding of the society at hand. This type of journalism encourages reporters to travel to remote areas and interact with the citizens and examines proposed projects to improve the conditions of locals. This essay aims to critique and explain the course involving development journalism with regard to the third term radio packages which have been created. I will examine the reflective tools which were used incorporating the Agency document that was drawn up by our class at the beginning of the year. This document as well as the concept of development journalism aspires to offer a practice that is more people-engaged. I will explain the tools I used to reflect on the packages I produced thus offering a critical reflection on my own production work. I will also describe the production process and outline the radio production methods and techniques I used. The essay will give a brief overview of my story as well as the final production including the editing method. The last section of the essay will discuss the ways in which this journalistic approach informed or fell short of informing the work I did.
Within the South African media landscape, radio journalism fulfils the media quota in the numerous rural areas, as a result of the fact that it is free and relatively easy to access. Those living below the poverty line are not financially equipped to enjoy television news, newspapers and internet-based news agencies. Without radio as a medium, there would be a void in our country thus separating those who do not have the means to access information from those who are more fortunate and better situated. This could pose a problem for the creation of a democratic South Africa where every citizen has a right to participate in public discussion and debate. Radio allows for South Africans to have an understanding of current affairs and provides a platform from which all citizens can voice their opinions and create change within their country. Due to its unbiased nature, radio offers a grass-roots approach to media production meaning that journalists create packages about those who live in less mainstream society, allowing theses citizens a chance to share their stories.
Our class drew up an Agency document that is informed by our position within the debates regarding objectivity, even though objectivity is often compromised by each of our identities and positions within society. We will produce reports which are factually based and informative, while maintaining our positions as facilitators, social commentators and educators. We will facilitate the empowerment of the voices often silenced and offer a grass-roots approach to the world of journalism. These roles adhere to the concept of development journalism and will promote the centring of stories on the concerns of ordinary citizens. We will engage our listeners thus freeing them from the position of passive audience and allowing them to shape news rather than only consume news. We will highlight stories about commendable citizens who have taken responsibility for their own lives rather than focusing on top-down stories about government and other authoritative institutions’ projects.
Development journalism as examined by Professor Fackson Banda, is “an intellectual enterprise in which the journalist should form a kind of free intelligence and should critically examine the aims of national development and the applicable instruments in a rational discourse and solve them by reasonable criteria free of social constraints” (Banda, 2006: 5). This means that instead of hearing about local developments from an authoritative point of view as mainstream journalism encourages, journalists link development to human beings and examine it from an anthropological standpoint. People should be reported on as subjects and agents of development rather than being viewed as objects or victims, deviating from previous development journalisms from a postcolonial past. This does not however force journalism to highlight only success stories as sometimes constructive criticism is also necessary (Gunaratne, 1996: 7-8).
The development journalism package I created this term examined the Masihlule Recycling Project situated at the landfill site on the outskirts of Grahamstown. I chose to focus on this project as it complimented the notion of development journalism, following an idea which has resulted in the improvement of citizens’ way of life which was before considered somewhat destructive. This project is not a government initiative and thus my package did not need to focus on official sources who would offer top-down opinions. My angle focuses on the opportunities this project has created out of something which was before considered an insignificant job by the community in general. This project is run by Angie Tompson, a local woman who saw an opportunity to create a sustainable recycling project and provide employment for local ‘scavengers’ (people who sorted through other citizens’ rubbish bags in order to sell recyclable waste). However, to adhere to the grass-roots beat, I focused on an employee and the change this project has brought to his quality of life. Eric Charles provided the majority of actuality while Tompson’s voice was only brought in to offer an understanding of project’s aims. I also interviewed Nosipho Manona, the development officer, who outlined the opportunities the project offers its employees. I first heard about the Masihlule Recycling Project through a Google search when researching an environmental piece which required ambience from the landfill site. This project interested me and when the opportunity to create a development piece arose, it was the first story I pitched. After my pitch was approved, I realised that it had the potential to overlap with the environmental beat and thus I decided that I would focus my story on the people rather than the project. After gaining an understanding of the ins and outs of the project from its official website, I conducted a telephonic preliminary interview with Tompson who indicated who I should speak to and provided me with telephone numbers. I went to the landfill site after organising an interview with Manona and asked her questions regarding the opportunities the project had provided the employees. I met many of the sorters and felt that Charles, a young man who worked as a mechanic at the project, would be able to offer my audience a greater understanding of the dreams the employees had and how the project had assisted in their achievement. I returned to the Journalism Department with a mass of content and began the editing process. This posed a problem as we only had three to four minutes to cover the story and I felt that by including three voices I would have trouble keeping the package development based. However, I edited the piece to offer Charles’ voice as the main interest and then returned to the landfill site to capture actual wild track (background noise used to create a scene) to create a realistic ‘picture’ in the minds of my audience. I then attended one of the young man’s rugby practices for ambience to highlight the influence the sport has on his life and work ethic.
The Masihlule Project Recycling Centre seemed like a perfect option for a development journalism package but once I had sent in my story pitch, I realised that it had the potential to become an environmental piece rather than development-based due to its foundation in recycling. To avoid this, I decided to focus on a specific person within the project who would be able to illustrate the developmental possibilities the project offered its employees. This aspect of my story helped me achieve a grass-roots approach as I went into Charles’ environment and through my open-ended questions was able to gain an understanding of the story he wanted to tell and not the story I wanted to report. I prepared very few, basic questions regarding what he does at the recycling centre and how long he’d been working there for instance, but waited for him to explain how the project had changed his way of living and how he felt closer to achieving his dreams now that he had proper employment. I experienced some difficulty with finding someone who was proud of what they had achieved. One of the ladies at the recycling centre said that she didn’t want people to know she sorted other people’s waste to support her family. While I was shocked by her comment, it made me realise that development journalism still had a long way to go in creating a platform for people to feel safe enough to tell their story. I understood her story and thought it was something to be extremely proud of but I knew I couldn’t instil pride in her. I was worried that using Tompson would create the postcolonial journalistic approach of ‘foreigners saving the natives’ but I knew that including her voice would offer a compassionate angle as she did not speak from an authoritative stand-point. By simply explaining the project’s aims, I feel that she outlined what would, one day, become a sustainable development and assist many more people’s standard of living. Nosipho Manona’s voice offered another grass-roots approach but from someone who has achieved a qualification and managerial position through the training she received from the Masihlule Project. This package adhered to the development journalism requirements and through offering the audience an understanding of what grass-roots life entails, fulfils journalism’s role of providing ordinary citizens the chance to share their stories whether they are successful or not.
Banda, F. 2006. “An Appraisal of the Applicability of Development Journalism in the
Context of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB)”. Grahamstown, Rhodes University. Retrieved from http://eprints.ru.ac.za/424/1/Development_journalism_&_PSB_presentation_to_SABC.pdf accessed on 25 August 2010.
Gunaratne, S. 1996. “Old wine in a new bottle: public journalism movement in the United States and the erstwhile NWICO debate”. Paper presented at the International Division of the IAMCR Conference, Sidney, Australia.
JMS3 Radio. 2010. “Agency Document”. Grahamstown, Rhodes University. Retrieved from http://ruconnected.ru.ac.za/mod/resource/index.php?id=2010 on 23 August 2010.