Transcription 1996

What is the purpose of public service broadcasting? This simple question has been the subject of a great deal of argument, debate and deliberation over the past seven years in South Africa, and indeed in every country in which there has been a strong tradition of public broadcasting.
As a point of departure, I take the purpose of public service broadcasting to be the provision of a universal service of excellent programming, while maintaining public legitimacy through an editorial independence from both the government of the day, and rampant commercial interests.
By ‘universal’ I mean programming which covers a filll range of genres, from information to education and entertainment, for the widest possible audience covering the most extensive geographical spread. There is only one caveat to this definition: public service broadcasting must be carried out within the means available to the public broadcaster. It is at this point, when the pragmatism of limited financial means meets with the idealism of an all-encompassing mandate, that the true contradiction of public service broadcasting in the late twentieth century becomes apparent.
The projected budget for the South African Broadcasting Corporation in the 1996-1997 fiscal year is in the order of R440 million, which translates to roughly $110m (Canadian dollars). Let us compare that to some of the agreements made this year alone, in one country – Germany:
MCA TV and the commercial TV station RTL announced a 10 year $1,5 billion output deal for new and existing MCA feature films and TV product.
MCA and the KirchGroup entered into a pay-TV output deal for a duration of 10 years,valued at more than $1 billion.
Columbia Tristar and the KirchGroup completed a long term output agreement for a reported $1 billion, whick gives the KirchGroup rights to all motion pictures released by Columbia after January 1 1996, and to substantial co-production agreements.
Viacom, parent company of Paramount, and the KirchGroup signed an understanding which will give the KirchGroup all free and pay-TV rights in German-speaking territories, some continental rights for Paramount TV shows, access to Viacom’s MTV Europe channels, a block of Nickelodeon children’s programming as well as an option to buy a 12% stake in Telecino, the Spanish commercial TV station. Total value of the agreement is estimated in excess of $1 billion.
Disney-ABC and the KirchGroup announced a 10 year contract for Pay-TV and pay-per-view rights for Disney, Hollywood Touchstone and Miramax output, valued at $1 billion.
Warner Brothers and the KirchGroup completed a long-term contract for $800 million.
This, ladies and gentleman, is the broadcast environment of the late 20th century. It is against this background, and the background of severe financial cutbacks, together with rising expectations of what is required from public service broadcasters, that we approach our subject matter tonight: the future and transformation of public service broadcasting, and the process of democratic renewal.

Three questions seem appropriate:
1.     What changes have taken place in the concept and practice of public service broadcasting in the Spry Memorial Lecture 1996 movement from modernity to post-modernity?
2.     Do we need a public service media any longer? and
3.     How do we ensure that such a medium fulfils the basic conditions of public service broadcasting, in terms of both content and economic sustainabilty.

Challenges Facing Public Service Broadcasting
Broadcasting entered the public arena in the second half of the 1920s. In South Africa, radio stations were set up in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, all under private ownership, and by 1929, the companies were amalgamated as the African Broadcasting Company. In 1934, the government of the Union of South Africa commissioned the then Director General of the BBC, John Reith, to write a charter for a national Public Broadcaster, and in 1936, the African Broadcasting Company became the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
Reith’s vision of public service broadcasting was an essentially modernist one. It incorporated the optimistic hope of rational discourse and the firm belief in the edifying and uplifting potentials of broadcasting as a conveyer of ‘culture’. It was premised on the understanding that the broadcasting spectrum is limited, and belongs to the nation. The government, while it may act as the guardian of the nation-state, should be kept at arm’s length from the day to day operation of the broadcaster. Broadcasting, in this view, is a public good belonging to the whole nation, not to be exploited for private or sectarian gain of either a monetary or ideological kind.
The modernist vision of public service broadcasting is the now ‘classic’ version of public service broadcasting. Alongside the hope for rational discourse and belief in broadcasting’s potential as a conveyor of ‘culture’, it is also indicative of colonial belief in upliftment. In the South African case, this was despite the very limited view of who constituted ‘the people’ broadcasting was to serve, an understanding which was confined to White, English speakers, and only grudgingly extended to White Afrikaans speakers.(l)
Public broadcasting was premised on the understanding that the broadcasting spectrum is limited, and belongs to the nation. The government, while it may act as the guardian of the nation-state, should be kept at arm’s length from the day to day operation of the broadcaster. Broadcasting, in this view, is a public good belonging to the whole nation, not to be exploited for private or sectarian gain of either a monetary or ideological kind. Conceptually, the right place for the broadcaster is the public sphere.(2)
From its inception, political and commercially powerfial sectors of society expected public service broadcasting to accomplish an important democratic and cultural mission. It was given the task of providing the entire population with information, education and quality entertainment. For both economic and ideological reasons, the tasks implied in this mandate could only be performed by a state regulated monopoly — i.e. public broadcasting services. This was the rationale which governed public service broadcasting until the early 1980s. From that period, the global media landscape underwent fundamental changes as almost all countries deregulated broadcasting. National broadcasting systems were deregulated, or rather re-regulated, private providers were admitted to the market and the state facilitated and promoted the development of the technological infrastructure, and was occasionally involved in its operation.
In the time between John Reith and the present much has changed. While the nation-state has been the terrain of public broadcasting, most of the dynamics which plague broadcasting are of international import, and are the direct result of the intervention of the global economic world order, which threatens to undermine the very economic and political system under which public broadcasting presently operates: the nation-state. It is my contention that most of these arise from the move from modernity to post-modernity.

The Crisis of Post-Modernity
The main issues we can identify here can be summarised under three strands:

1.    the decline of the value of the nation-state as the primary political and economic structure;

2.    the issues involved in cultural identity, most notably the rise of ethnic, religious, gender and ‘life style’ identities, which have overtaken the previous pre-eminence of class as a determining factor in identity; and

3.    the epistemological, ethical and political shifts in the way we think about ourselves and our world.(3)

The project of modernity is characterised by the ideal of rational thought, rooted in a notion of shared, universal human rationality. On this basis it has been premised that open debate allowed free agents to discuss and reach agreement on the end and means of politics – defined as the achievement of human emancipation from the domination of nature, and poverty, on their fellow human beings.

Post-modernists on the other hand, argue that universal rationality and progressive politics is impossible in the face of an inescapable cultural relativism. Post-modernism substitutes pleasure and difference for reason and universality as the pre-eminent categories of analysis.

In this view, western secular rationalism is seen not only as one variant of cultural identity, but also as an aggressive and imperialistic variant attempting to impose its false unity on the rich diversity of cultural difference. What is the role of the mass media in this debate?
Two points are crucial:

1.     rational debate within the public sphere — the crucial the the crucial underpinning of modernist politics — is being challenged as an on-going possibility; and

2.     the media, so central to the theory of post-modernity, are at the same time the crucial infrastructures, as well as the terrain, of economic and cultural globalization.

Recent Trends in Media Industries
Throughout the world, media industries are undergoing major changes both at the level of technology as well as at the level of political economy. Expanding on the centrality of media in post-modernity, seven distinct, but frequently overlapping tendencies in the development of modern media organizations are evident.

a growing concentration of resources within media industries, which occurs at the same time as the contrary process of fracturing;

diversification, in which industries based in one sector of the economy spread their investments,and their risks, not only into horizontally and vertically integrated activities, but expanding into areas which are traditionally outside their core business. At the same time, there is evidence of a dialetical process of decentralisation and de-diversification, as huge conglomerates disentangle their various components in the understanding that economic efficiency demands meticulous attention to specific tasks;

globalization, set against the antithetical processes of localisation and the rise of the politics of identity;

an international movement towards deregulation, or rather re-regulation, through the opening of opportunities to new market entrants, which has characterised the ideological perspective of the post-cold war era;

the growth of media technologies and convergence which threatens the pre-eminence of the public broadcaster as the chief articulator of the nation-state; the loss of legitimacy and credibility in the face of rampant commercialisation and pandering to governments;

the increasing difficulty in remaining solvent in the face of massive competition.

While each of these trends can be supported by even the most cursory glance at the international literature, they are clearly illustrated within the South African context as well (4). I would like to concentrate on the issue of financial viability, since this is the crux of much of the present dilemma facing public broadcasters world wide. Here I will illustrate the arguments with reference to the South African case, but these principles do have wider applicability.

Funding and the Public Broadcaster
The greatest crisis of public service broadcasting is that as income diminishes, costs rise. This is a truism which is hardly unique to public broadcasting. The basic difficulty with the SABC, and this is probably instructive of many third world, ‘developing’ or ‘south’ broadcasters, is the contradiction which ]ies between their public service mandate, and its access to public funds. By public funds I mean those hmds paid directly or indirectly from the public in the way of licence fees, along the same model used in Britain and France, the understanding being that those who use the media gain ‘ownership’ of it through direct subscription to it. This mechanism excludes money directly from the public treasury, which in this instance, I refer to as ‘state’ funding. At present, the SABC receives no direct funding from the state: 18% of its budget comes from licences; 78% from advertising; and 4% from sponsorship and commercial sales. Thus the SABC is a broadcaster with a public mandate, but which operates in a commercial environment, under commercial constraints.
The problem in South Africa has been exacerbated by the regulator — the Independent Broadcasting Authority, or IBA — which has imposed a mandate, but only recommended a mechanism of funding, a distinction which indicates the divide between the idealism of the public service mandate, and the prosaic realm of economics. The mandate of a public service broadcaster can be extrapolated almost indefinitely. It is an important exercise to stretch the corporate irnagination, and pose the question: What if? What if resources were infinite and imagination the only impediment, what could be done? In the real world, idealism must be tempered with pragmatism, and ‘what if?’ translates to ‘what can we, given the limitations of our resources’… This is a hard lesson for public broadcasters, used as they are to a birthright of largesse from the public purse.

Expenditure: Increasing the Public Service Mandate
Historically, the SABC played an important role in both constructing and supporting the apartheid structures of the pre-1991 South Africa. In the 1980s the SABC explicitly supported the then government in its effort to combat the ‘Total Onslaught’ of ‘revoluhonary forces’, seen to be spearheaded by the ANC in exile (5). With the general transformation of the South African political imperatives, being the voice of the government was no longer an option: it was a liability. From January 1991, under the leadership of Wynand Harmse, an accountant by training and inclination, emphasis within the SABC moved from power to finance as the dominant organizing principle. The SABC was reorganized into ‘Business Units’, each with its own financial responsibility as a profit-generating entity (6). At the end of the 1991 financial year, the surplus stood at 34 million rand; by the end of the 1995 financial year, it had increased to 101 million rand (7). Today, all things being equal with the income level predicated on 1995 and the expenditure figures predicated on the mandate agreed to with the IBA, the projected shortfall for the 1996-97 year is R56 million (8). How has this happened?

A New Mandate
After an extensive process of public norninations and hearing, the election of the new Board of Directors of the SABC, announced in May 1993, can be seen as the point heralding the ‘new’ broadcast environment. In line with the social, economic and political changes taking place within the country as a whole, the SABC was in the vanguard of visible change. To this end, much creative energy was expended on negotiating a new ‘Vision and Values’ framework which would act as the blueprint for the task of transforming a former state broadcaster into a finally ledged public broadcaster. Summarized briefly, this vision was

a commitment to deliver full-spectrum services to all South Africans, in all parts of the country, and in each of the eleven official languages. Their prograrnme content is aimed at protecting and nurturing South African culture and creativity, and relecting the reality of South Africa to itself and to the world from a distinctly South African perspective(9).

The most visible evidence of the SABC’s new approach has been the reconfiguration of television channels. Television previously served the interests of the middle classes only: predominantly White, ‘coloured’ and Indian, with an increasingly large percentage of Black people falling into this category.
The aim of the ‘re-launch’, which took place in February 1996, was precisely to move closer to delivering public broadcasting by providing more of the country’s eleven official languages, as well as ensuring that the seven which were already broadcast, were done so with greater equity.
The SABC television service has three channels at its disposal: TVl, with the largest footprint, or signal distribution network, broadcasts programming in SeTswana, SeSotho, Tsivenda; siNdebele, Xitsonga and Isiswati, during peakhours, filling in the morning and afternoon schedules in a mixture of these languages interspersed with English. Similarly, TV2, with a strong signal network in the eastern part of the country, uses IsiXhosa, Zulu and Afrikaans during peak viewing time; while TV3, the smallest signal footprint covering predominantly urban areas, broadcasts only in English. The various languages are scheduled in ‘blocks’ in order to provide a continutity for viewers: for example, on TV2, the main News bulletin on a Tuesday evening will be in Zulu, preceded by a Zulu-language game show, and followed by a Zulu-language drama. The predominance of English in the schedules is premised on the notion of English as a ‘core’ language, understood as the second language choice of most South Africans, and more practically, on the wide and inexpensive availabilty of English-language programming on the international market.
While much of the transformation work was aimed at television, in radio too, substantial changes needed to be implemented, most notably the upgrading of the African language channels, and the extension and improvement of the news division.
In order to put into effect such an ambitious plan, the mandate of the SABC was stretched considerably. Among other projects, the following targets were aimed for:

extension of language services towards full ‘equity’ on television;
increase in local content programming;
extension of TV footprint to reach all potential viewers;
introduction of regional television slots in all provinces;
equity and universal access to religious programming;
provision of curriculum based education on both radio and television; and
upgrading of the African language radio services.

Local content programming, particularly when it includes a high proportion of drama, documentary and sport, is an enormously expensive enterprise, as any national broadcaster worldwide will testify. Nevertheless, it is essential to the project of protecting national identity and national culture, as well as providing for the diverse language needs of the audience. It is worth noting that a locally produced drama would cost as much as R15 000 a minute while a drama of the same standard produced abroad, in English, would sell for as little as R600 a minute. Audiences used to exogenous programming, in which the quality typically is very professional, are not prepared to settle for inferior productions, simply on the grounds that they are ‘local’. One way around this dilemma is the large-scale use of dubbing into a local language. An added advantage is that the original imported soundtrack can be ‘simulcast’ on another audio channel – either through the television set, or synchronised on radio.
Apart from the projects mentioned, there have been a number of ‘once off’ (but periodically recurring) expenses, notably the coverage of elections (national and regional) and voter education coverage of the truth and reconciliation commission; the coverage of Parliamentary debates, and the like.
Greater financial liability has also been imposed by the shrinking value of the Rand when measured against other currencies, notably the American, Canadian and Australian dollar, as well as Pounds Sterling, the currencies in which most programming and capital equipment is paid for. Decreased surplus reserves have also meant a smaller amount of interest paid into the current account.
Currently, expected income of the Corporation has been drastically cut. An important factor here has been the increasingly notable ‘culture of non-payment’ which has seen the television licence payment shrink to 18 percent of the viewing public (10). The main source of revenue – advertising – has dropped substantially, both on radio and television. The relaunching and reconfiguration of the television channels, with a new programming mix, new formats and a more multi-cultural, multi-ethnic mix, clearly has played a part in the reluctance of advertisers to buy broadcast space. However, television viewing and radio watching are highly routine domestic habits, and any change, let alone a major change across three of the country’s four channels, will of itself result in substantial audience reshufling before the new rhythms of the service are negotiated. (The fourth channel is the pay-TV channel, M Net.)
To complicate matters, at the request of the IBA, and in an attempt to ‘deregulate’ the airwaves, the SABC recently sold off six of its regional radio stations, all of which had been run on commercial lines, and which had generated sizable profits used to cross-subsidise the less profitable public service stations. Together, the loss of revenue from the privatisation of these stations amounts to R90 million per annum, calculated on the 1995 figures (11).
At the heart of the issue is that most advertising spending goes to White, Coloured and Indian target markets, with advertisers spending less on African language broadcasts, which are not seen as significant markets. Despite the increased expenditure on extending, upgrading and generally improving the core business of the radio division – the public service stations in African language – larger audiences don’t necessarily translate into revenue. Marketers have told the SABC that until the size of the Black middle class has improved, they do not see lots of advertising being dedicated to speakers of Black languages. This is also true of television expenditure on the new Eastern African languages. The four new languages introduced into the SABC Television schedule: Tsivenda; siNdebele, Xitsonga and Isiswafi, have not brought any new revenue into the Corporation, nor is it envisaged that they will do so in the foreseeable future.

Do We Need a Public Broadcaster?
The answer to this question is far from self-evident. The need for a public broadcasting service has characteristically been justified on two grounds:
1.     the protection of national idendity and culture; and

2.     the provision of information, education and entertainment to those sectors of society which are economically non-profitable.

National Identity
Social solidarity is reinforced when consumers share the same cultural and informahonal environment. BBC founder John Reith, and those who followed his school of thought, argued that this is best achieved when audiences shared common cultural resources, and were subjected to a monopoly provider of a single service.
Although the ideal of a universal single-channel environment is now an anachronism, nation-building continues to be an over-riding consideration, as is evidenced by the SABC’s Guidelines for Programme Content:
In a multicultural society, the SABC needs to ensure not only that the diversity is reflected, but that it is reflected positively….

Programmes should contribute to a sense of nation building and should not in any way disparage the lifestyle or belief systems of any specific cultural group or in any way attack the integrity of such a group, unless it is established to be in the public interest. However, the news and beliefs of different groups are obviously open to honest, thoughtful scrutiny in programmes like documentaries.(12)

The need for the consolidation of national identity is keenly felt in developing countries, and the role of the mass media rightly has been foregrounded in this debate. Media provide the self-image of a society. In their now classic exposition of ‘bardic television’, John Fiske and John Hartley (13) note that

the bardic mediator occupies the centre of its culture: television is one of the most highly centralized institutions in modern society. This is not only the result of commercial monopoly or government control, it is also a response to the culture’s felt need for a common centre, to which the television message always refers. Its centralization speaks to all members of a highly fragmented society.

In somewhat more colourful language, Colin Morris, one-time documentary commissioner for the  BBC, makes a similar point:

In the Book of Genesis, it is God who brings order out of chaos; in the modern world, television journalists have to make a stab at doing it. They subdue into harmony a mountain of telex printouts, miles of video tape and a pandemonium of ringing telephones. They organize into a coherent picture, a riot of impressions, a chaos of events, a bedlam of attitudes and opinions that would otherwise send us scurrying to the hills in panic. And they have to construct this world view at lightning speed, in a welter of instant judgements. Not for them the luxury afforded to philosophers of earlier ages who could reflect at leisure on the fitness of things. Aristotle had no six o’clock deadline to meet.(14)

Third world countries, particularly those in Africa, have taken nation-building most seriously. A leading African intellectual, Paul Ansah (1981) of the University of Ghana, put it this way:

[T]he press in a developing country is expected to help forge a sense of national unity, identity and integration and to mobilise the people for development. Many leaders in developing countries also consider that it is their responsibility to provide information to citizens as a social service in the same way as they provide other services such as educational, health and recreational facilities.
African governments find it necessary to control broadcasting operations in order to promote national unity, socio-economic development and stability. It is felt that if control is not exercised, there is a danger of the system falling into the hands of wealthy people who could use it to promote commercial, sectional or political interests that may be at variance with national objectives.

These sentiments have been echoed throughout Africa. Nahum Gorelick (15), one-time Director-General of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation, made a similar statement:

In Third World countries, the power of radio and television must be considered as an effective tool for change and development. There is no doubt that governments in their attempt to implement policies of development, which can be considered as a national priority, depend to a great extent on radio and television communication. The fact is, if there is no development and no participation by the people in this developmental effort, we are then condemned to face conflicts within our society.

The line of thought which foregrounds the media as watchdog and critics does not go down well with African governments. In many cases, building nationalism is articulated as the unconditional and uncritical adherence to political – often party-political – orthodoxy. John Tusa (16) has expressed the opinion that in many African countries,

governments feel weak rather than strong, threatened by tribal [and ethnic] rivalries, economic failure, ideological disputes, religious tensions. In such an atmosphere, the response has been to demand of the journalist/broadcaster in Africa that they should … bind the nation together, and that criticism, dissent, investigation, all the customary activities of the media should take second place to the primary need of national unity.

Tusa’s response is indicative of most western-based commentators. He articulates the demand for control as one of “two different codes of journalistic ethics … a higher standard of editorial standards for the developed world and a looser discipline for the developing nations.” Such double standards are unacceptable, they are “patronising on the part of the West, defeatist on the side of the Third World.”
However, Tusa’s riposte misses the point: while he is correct that control of the media “is a disservice to those who look to the media for a true picture of events, and it is harmfill to the democratic process”, in his rebuttal he evidences a clash of values between western, liberal values (laissez-faire) and normative /developmental ethics. While he is absolutely correct that

a free press is the mark of a confident nation; an accurate press is the sign of a mature people; a press which can criticise governments temperately and governments which react rationally to such criticism, are evidence of a civilised state.(17)

This position is not incompatible with an understanding of the hugely significant role the media are able to play in producing social goods such as health education, civic literacy, and pro-social messages. Not all nation building necessarily promotes sectarian political positions. Indeed, when the electronic media is used in a top-down fashion, uncritically mouthing the voice of the government or party, they become instruments of oppression losing their credibility as the aspirations of the people changed with regard to political, cultural, social and economic desires. In effect, they lose their effectiveness.

Universal Provision of Programming
Questions around the universal provision of information, education and entertainment are more compelling. The MacBride report on the New World Information Order (18) stressed the understanding of cultural rights as human rights. Culture, education and the provision of information were seen as basic human rights, alongside and equal to, the material rights of food, water, health and housing. These informational ‘needs’ have to be provided as social goods – and not simply as commercial commodihes. This debate has been revived by the recent publication of the UNESCO report (19) Our Cultural Diversity which stresses the intimate connection between culture and development.

Arguing for the protection of culturally, educationally and socially valued broadcasting, or what Jay Blumler (20) has eloquently referred to as ‘vulnerable values’, is not the same as distinguishing between needs and wants. Put in those terms, ‘wants’ are thought of as the legitimate desires of the audiences, signalled through the two mechanisms of audience research — i.e. ratings which signal audience preferences and appreciation indices, and measure off the intensity of those preferences– the market –i.e. consumer support for encrypted or encoded channels. In the same framework, ‘needs’ are envisaged as the paternalistic response of whose who know best — a top-down approach compared to the more participatory approach of ‘wants’ (21).
The argument I am putting forward is one which recognises the asymmetric distribution of power with respect to different audience segments and their ability to signal wants and needs. A broadcasting policy based only on the perceived wants of those who are in a position to articulate them through market-driven responses, to quote Richard Collins, “will necessarily neglect large areas of legitimate needs, and will reproduce and perhaps amplify existing inequalities in wealth and power.”(22) In other words, legitimate needs cannot be determined by an exogeneous process decided outside the expressed wants of the audience.
Driven by a purely commercial logic, it is not possible to ensure that a rich diversity of programrning is available to audiences who are not considered to be profitable. In this respect, there is a temptation for commercial media to be less concerned with wide public access than they are with profit. For the purposes of commercial broadcasters, universality is not important: what is important is to cater for a critical mass of well defined audience segments with the wherewithal to purchase specific categories of products. Audiences perceived to fall outside of the parameters of consumers, or who are too expensive to reach, are not catered for. As a commercially driven public service broadcaster, the SABC is very prone to a schizophrenic sense of its own direction.
Audiences can be excluded from universal coverage for at least three reasons:
1.    They are too poor, and poor people make poor consumers, both of the media itself and the products it advertises. The consumption of printed media is a case in point: when a daily newspaper is an equivalent price to a daily loaf of bread, the choice is clear.

2.   They are too geographically dispersed. Newspapers are poorly distributed in rural areas, since the cost of transport and distribution cannot be recovered by the cover price. Broadcasting over long distances has traditionally required heavy investment in cabling, microwave relay stations, receivers and boosters. Television, furthermore, requires a pre-existing  electricity grid. In commercial terms, the outlay of such an infrastructure may not be compensated for by the expected return in audience numbers, particularly when the rural areas are sparsely populated. The greater the density of population, the higher the marginal return on infrastructural investment.

3.   They are too linguistically or culturally diverse. Catering for the information and entertainment needs of small pockets of distinct language speakers is costly, with a very low marginal rate of return on the numbers of viewers and listeners reached. This is particularly true of television, where original programming is very expensive. While the cheaper options of dubbing or subtitling existing programming is still expensive, such programming may not be acceptable to the audience. (This is particularly true of drama programming, while news, sports and actuality programming finds greater acceptance in translation.)
The range of programming is also limited by commercial considerations. Nicholas Garnham (23) has pointed out that “what we are in fact being offered is not cultural interchange in the electronic sphere, but on the contrary the expansion of price and profit, of commodity exchange, as the dominating mode of organization in yet another area of cultural production and consumption.”
There is enormous competition to provide information goods to those who can pay for them, or those whose economic status defines them as attractive audiences to advertisers. This affects the ability of the public broadcaster to provide some categories of programming which may be seen to be in the public interest. The classic issues of programming for the very young; curriculum-based education; the elderly and disabled, including close-caption broadcasting or sign-language inserts for the deaf; as well as minority language and cultural groups; readily come to mind here. But broadcasting is big business commanding big capital outlay, and nowhere is this more evident than the question of sports nghts. When these rights involve national teams, they are seen by many as a national asset and not only as a right of the privileged few who are able to access them through superior buying power.

Can Public Service Broadcasting Survive?
From the arguments weighed above it seems reasonable to argue that if public service broadcasting is to survive, it will not be the same sort of public sector broadcasting we have defined in classical terms.
It is no longer possible to envisage a national public broadcaster which can be all things to all people, fulfilling all functions of broadcasting in the old style of its monolithic dominance. Neither financially, nor ideologically is it possible to present a single monopoly broadcaster, integrated across all broadcasting functions.
If we are to find a space in which the public broadcaster is able not only to survive, but to thrive, then we need to be able to place it within a matrix of broadcasting alternatives, which takes account of the reality of new technologies, commercial competition and the changing milieu of post-modern nationalisms.







independent production houses


facility houses


in-house production (eg Supersport; TopSport; Safritel; Television News Productions)


news agencies (eg SAPA;

EPNA; Reuters; AFP; DPA;



intemational NETWORKS

national networks globalizing

their services







Digital Satellite (DTV)


Analogue Satellite (Astrasat)


national radio stations (PSI)


national commercial radio stations


community radio






Thus instead of speaking of a national public service broadcaster, we need to be able to speak of a broadcasting environment, into which the public service broadcaster must fit. The whole of this environment will then be a flexible entiy of interlocking parts, in which co-ordination, rather than centralization, will be the chief organising principle. In order to envisage how this can be achieved, it is usefiul to break up the broadcast environment into its discrete parts, at least on an analytic basis (see Table One). The categories I have chosen, in a fairly arbitrary way, are those of producer/ programme supplier; broadcaster /scheduler; and distributor.
If we take as our point of departure that the broadcast environment should be judged by two criteria on the one hand, whether it facilitates the development of pluralistic media, ie. provides consumers with the widest set of relevant and really useful choices; and whether it fosters the eficient use of resources, then it makes sense to argue that a public broadcaster will need to identify those areas of ‘core competence’ which must be filled as social goods, but which are being neglected by the for-profit-broadcasters. At the same time, it will also identify those areas of broadcasting which are profitable, and which can usefiully be exploited to provide the funding leverage to cross-subsidise the less profitable, but socially necessary. Thus the SABC plans to have a part share in the satellite venture, ASTRASAT, which will be run as a purely commercial venture in order to produce profits, with the sole purpose of generating monies to cross-subsidise the less profitable, but socially necessary, terrestrial services.
Part of this process is in effect already happening. The use of outside production companies for the commissioning and production of programming is now an accepted practice. The SABC retains its in house production facilities, notably TopSport, Television News Productions, and Safritel (responsible for the production of continuity, educational and children’s programming) as well as studio and editing infrastructure, and as a result, when it embarks on a local production, it enlists the services of outside production houses. According to M-Net, the local film and television industry benefits from this practice, as the commissioning to outside companies creates work, income and investor confidence in the industry, which in turn promotes prosperity. M-Net also asserts that the commissioning of productions to outside companies contributes “towards a vibrant and dynamic range of creative input that encourages growth, diversity and healthy competition within the industry” (24).
At a structural level, the disaggregation, or in South African parlance, the ‘unbundling’, of media organizations is already apparent with the separation of Sentech (the signal distribution arm ofthe SABC) from the direct control of the SABC, a move which will be formalised with the passing of the Sentech Act now before Parliament; and the split between MultiChoice and M-Net. Both these moves were done for very strategic reasons. Outside the direct line of ownership of the SABC, Sentech would be able to canvas further transactions from other broadcasters, as well as targeting the business community, to whom they would be able to offer new distribution services, for example satellite technology to provide training and tele-conferencing facilities, in-house radio services and the like, in a more legitimate way, a very necessary consideration in the light of the deregulation and proliferation of broadcast organizations.
In October 1993 Multi-Choice (now Multi-Choice International Holdings [MIH]) and M-Net separated into two business units. After the restructuring, M-Net retained the role of domestic broadcaster / scheduler, and as a provider of subscription TV in Africa and the adjacent islands; while Multi-Choice fimctioned as a distribution network, with control of the Subscriber Management Services (SMS) and Communications Technologies (ComTech) divisions, as well as technology and programme distribution in Africa and Europe. Multi-Choice (MIH) provides subscriber management services to households subscribing to M-Net, BBC World Service TV, Canal Horizons, TV Portuguesa, Christian Network, Shalom TV, and Bop TV.2s

It has been suggested that part of the reason behind the split was that in the light of a new political dispensation and investigations by the IBA into broadcasting, … M-Net’s diversification into MultiChoice allows the company to function as a commercial company, not subject to the social obligations that might be imposed on M-Net as a broadcaster. In other words the IBA has little legal recourse over a financial, management company which is the nature of MultiChoice.(26)

Bypassing the regulation of the IBA over the international operation, MIH has greater accessibility to the international capital market.

How Can Public Service Broadcasting Survive?
If, as I have argued, it is desirable that public service broadcasting should survive, and if at the same time it is faced with what appear to be insoluble odds against it, then there needs to be a protected space within the broadcasting environment for this type of service. This is true both of the national public broadcaster, and community broadcasting with a public mandate. This protection would take place within an awareness of the need for a wider range of broadcasting services. What I am suggesting here, is that we move to a situation which John Keane (27) has referred to as ‘regulated pluralism’. This needs to be done in such a way that the integrity and independence of the broadcaster is not compromised. It is the job of the state to provide the regulation environment — but it is the job of the media institutions to fillfil their mandates.
The role of the regulator is of primary importance here. The regulator is essential in three specific areas: the allocation of spectrum; the safeguarding of financial viability of the public broadcaster; and the adjudication of ground rules which must be the same for all players (ie. not possible to put PSB at a disadvantage vis-a-vis for-profit-broadcasters). In a purely market-driven environment — exemplified, for instance, by the United States of America — the broadcast spectrum, treated purely as a commodity, will be sold off.




competitive environment

– sell off radio stations

– competing with new entrants in both the radio and the television market


loss of advertising

loss of capital

loss of interest

loss of legitimacy (licence non-payment)

inflation (loss of interest; increase costs of capital replacement)


extension of language services towards full ‘equity’ on television

provision of curriculum based education

coverage of the truth and reconciliation commission; parliament

upgrading of the African language radio service

introduction of regional television slots

increase in local content programming

equity and universal access to religious


extension of TV footprint apart from ‘once offs’ (but periodically recurring)

coverage of elections (national and regional) and

voter education


Convergence and globalization mean that we need to construct a national communications/ information plan which will co-ordinate the efforts and enterprises of various information-based activities at the national level. At the same time, it is important to understand that within the age of globalization, it is no longer possible for a national regulator to regulate broadcasting or communications entirely: any attempt at regulation must take into consideration the fact that satellites understand no boundaries. Thus a national regulator must acknowledge its limitations — it needs to be flexible and dynamic, while at the same time able to take cognisance of changing external circumstances.
The greatest challenge for both public service broadcasters — whether national or community — as well as for the regulator, is the vexed question of financing. This question deserves an entire paper on its own, but it is not a question which can be ignored indefinitely. There is a Nigerian proverb which sums up the dilemma of public broadcasting most aptly, by comparing it to a communally owned goat, the pride of the village. If everyone claims ownership of the goat but no one feeds it, then the goat will die. It would be a great pity to see public broadcasting starve to death because no one was responsible for feeding it.


(1) One of the most important indicators of the difficulties inherent in fulfilling the public service mandate has been in the provision of universal service. Both in terms of complete geographic coverage of the country, as well as in terms of programme type and language, universal service largely has been a myth. In the case of South Africa, for instance, the issue of language on radio must serve as exemplary. Reith’s understanding of ‘the people’ was confined to those people who spoke English, and in this vein, initially only English language radio was set up. By the late 1930s, an hour of Afrikaans was introduced, becoming a separate, but not equal station in the 1940s, aptly labelled the “B service”. In similar fashion, ‘Bantu language’ radio programmes were introduced in the 1950s. With the technical advances made possible by the introduction of FM, the now infamous ‘Radio Bantu’ became a set of fully-fledged array of stahons mirroring and contributing to the apartheid grand narrative of separate nations, speaking separate languages, and living in separate areas of the country (cf Tomaselli & Tomaselli 1987).
(2) Habermas, 1989; Calhoun, 1992; Garnham, 1993; Thompson, 1993.
(3) Thompson, 1995; Keane, 1996; Teer-Tomaselli & Tomaselli, 1996.
(4) Tomaselli, 1996.
(5) Teer-Tomaselli, 1993.
(6) Curry, 1993: 48-49; Collins, 1993: 87.
(7) SABC Annual Report, 1995: 50.
(8) Evening Post, 16 August 1996.
(9) SABC, 1996a: 2.
(10) Argus, 16 August 1996.
(11) The Star, 23 September 1996.
(12) SABC, 1996b:
(13) Fiske & Hartley, 1978: 86.
(14) Quoted in Tusa, 1992.
(15) Gorelick, 1992.
(16) Tusa, 1992: 5.
(17) Tusa, 1992: 5.
(18) UNESCO, 1980.
(19) UNESCO, 1996: 24.
(20) Blumler, 1992.
(21) White, 1984
(22) Collins, 1993: 29
(23) Garnham, 1990: 121.
(24) Tager & Govender, 1994 :4.
(25) MultiChoice Annual Report, 1994.
(26) Tager & Govender, 1994.
(27) Keane, 1991.

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Browning, J. (1994) “Universal Access, not Universal Service”, Wall Street Journal, 7 September.

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Collins, R. (1993) “Reforming South African Broadcasting”, in E. P. Louw (ed) South African Media Policy: Debates of the 1990’s. Belville: Anthropos.

Garnham, N. (1990) Capitalism and Communication: Global Culture and the Economics of Information. Thousand Oaks, Cal.: Sage Publications

Garnham, N. (1993) “Mass Media, Cultural Identity, and the Public Sphere in the Modern World”,    Public Culture 5:251-265.

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Tager, M. & K. Govender. (1994) “‘M-Net: Baby Steps to Big Foot Status”. Durban: Unpublished research paper, Centre for Cultural and Media Studies, University of Natal.

Teer-Tomaselli, R. E. & K. G. Tomaselli. (1996) “Reconstituting Public Service Broadcasting: Media and Democracy during Transition in South Africa”, in M. Brun-Andersen, Media and Democracy. Oslo: University of Oslo Press.

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Thompson, J. B. (1995) The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Tomaselli, K G, R. E. Tomaselli & J. Muller, eds. (1987) The Press in South Africa. Belville: Anthropos.

Tusa, J. (1992) “Fourth Estate or Fifth Column? Media, the Government and the State”. Paper presented at ComBroad Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, March 1992.

UNESCO. (1980) Many Voices, One World. Report of the International Commission on the Problems of Communication. S. MacBride, chair. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.

UNESCO. (1996) Our Creative Diversity: Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development. Paris:UNESCO Publishing.

White, R. A. (1984) Democratisation of Communication: The Need for New Research Strategies. London: Centre for the Study of Comrnunication and Culture.

White, R. A. (1991) “Democratization in Communication: Normative Theory and Sociopolitical Process”, in K Greenberg (ed) Conversations in Communications Ethics. Norwood, NJ.: Ablex Publishing, pp. 141-164.