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Critical Political Economy in Media

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Within culture lies language and within language is that sense of diversity. South Africa is known to be one of the countries in the continent of Africa to greatly promote diversity. Educating people of the country’s past and celebrating different cultures and ethnicities. In the new thriving and transforming South African democracy, language pluralism in the countries media is questioned. This essay will compare and contrast the language pluralism and diversity in the newspaper and radio industry in South Africa. It will also discuss the extent funding is a problem for the growth and expansion of indigenous languages in the newspaper industry. The essay will be precisely formed in this following arrangement, beginning with a brief introduction then discussion on the Critical Political and Economy theory, the concept of funding and the effect it has on language diversity in newspapers. A comparison and contrast of newspapers and radio availability will be mentioned in relation to the growth of indigenous languages in the media.

Critical Political Economy is concerned with the examination of the structure within the production of media and the outcomes acquired from the availability of funding and the influence of authority (Hesmondhalgh, 2002: 31). It is characterised by being historical, holistic, and moralistic in its critique of ownership and funding concept. CPE takes what is understood as economics and centers it with an intention to understand the relation between the economy and democratic politics (Inglis: 1990: 110). Political economy helps to understand why content are the way people see them through analysis on its consumption to production and its ownership and use of resources (Inglis: 1990: 110). The term Political Economy is a very perplexed one. As it seems as though the two ‘political’ and ‘economy’ are overlapping disciplines (Inglis 1990: 120).

Political Economy has an interest in public participation and even supports the idea (Golding and Murdock: 2000: 76). Critical political economists believe that this will minimize inequalities within the market systems (Golding and Murdock: 2000: 76). As a result of these contradictions, political economy has since developed two approaches to it, the Liberal – Pluralist approach and the dominant Marxism approach (Li: 2000: 26).

The pluralism approach supports diversity, it allows for the expression and opinions of different independent voices while representing different cultures in media (Doyle: 2002: 11). Pluralism helps empower the right to access and supply information that is not influenced by certain individuals or groups in societies (Doyle: 2002: 12). Content is accessible in vast forms to everyone irrespective of whether it is in demand or not (Doyle: 2002: 12). In every country, privately owned media sectors are welcome. In a country like South Africa there is what is known as regulated capitalist economies whereby political economy relies on the rules administered by legislatures and the courts (Doyles: 2002: 12). There are laws that protect the citizens of a country and stipulates that things are suppose to be done in a certain way depending on which three tier system the broadcaster is in. Cultural pluralism is there to protect and allow for the representation of the range of cultures within societies (Doyle: 2002: 12). The Marxism approach which is key in the Critical Political Economy is influenced by the idea of capitalism. Marx defines capitalism as “the ownership of the means of production by a ruling class” (Turow: 2009: 172). Thus supporting Vincent Mosco’s (1996) explanation of political economy having to do with the survival and control of societies in producing what is needed to meet its goals (Wasko: 2004: 310).

Radio is the undisputed mass medium in South Africa (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 37). Over 92% of South Africans listen to radio on a daily basis for informal, educational or entertainment reasons (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 37). Records from ICASA show that in 2005 there were 122 officially licensed radio stations (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 37-38). There currently exist three broad servicing forms of radio stations, the public servicing broadcaster, commercial and community radio stations (SouthAfrica.info, 2013). Public service broadcasting entails servicing by a public broadcaster. In South Africa the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) which is mostly owned by the state and relies on extra funding from donations, the money from taxpayers and mostly from advertising (Southafrica.info, 2013) is the public service radio broadcaster. As stated in the Broadcasting Act No. 4 of 1999 in chapter two which maintains that the South African Broadcasting system is owned and controlled by South Africans (Broadcasting Act, 1999). Further in chapter two it is quoted as follows “The South African Broadcasting system (a) serves to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and the economy of South Africa (b) operates in the public interest”. The SABC as a public broadcaster is mandated by this act and to follow through it has 14 public broadcasting radio stations such as Ukhozi FM, Ikwekwezi FM, Motsweding, etc (SouthAfrica.info, 2013).

All 11 official languages are represented in the 14 with 14 public radio stations there would be expectations of the corporation’s acquiring enough revenue to operate, though the corporation relies on its commercial radio stations to recede when needed (Southafrica.info, 2013). Its commercial radio stations include Metro FM and 5 FM which both mainly are targeted at the youth (Southafrica.info, 2013). From the outside it would seem as though the SABC broadly caters for every single South African taking into consideration language. However, stations such as Ukhozi FM broadcasts in Isizulu have most of its shows targeted at the older generation (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 37). While Metro FM a ‘black’ youth targeted radio station is broadcast mainly in English (Southafrica.info, 2013). Is it that when the youth of today becomes the older generation in the future there will be no indigenous radio stations and the whole purpose of language pluralism and diversity will be non-existent? More money should be put in the radio stations that broadcast in the official languages to promote language pluralism within the youth and enforce diversity (Kuschula, 2010, 16). Although an attempt at this once occurred when DJ Sbu (Sibusiso Leope) joined the Ukhozi FM family when he first left youth radio station YFM, to do the breakfast show (bizcommunity.com, 2011). DJ Sbu’s joining of the Ukhozi FM station was meant to appeal to audiences outside the usual Ukhozi FM listeners mainly the youth, but it led to the gradual listeners judging DJ Sbu for not using his mother tongue and sounding too English (Health24, 2008). Eventually DJ Sbu was let go and he went back to YFM, but then he left YFM and went to Metro FM where he currently does the weekday show from three in the afternoon till six (MetroFM, 2013).

Privately owned radio stations become successful through listenership and capital generously increases (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 38). Such as adult contemporary radio station Khaya FM as unlike public radio stations it focuses more on lifestyle than demographics (Milne and Taylor, 2006,38). According to Kim Heller once head of research (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 38) radio stations such Jacaranda FM show impressive figures that appeal to everyone with stations records of 2005 showing a listenership of 2,18 million. Nevertheless, as stated before commercial radio stations are successful because they serve their purpose which is to make profit (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 38). And even though a public station like Ukhozi FM had over 6,25 million listeners (according to 2005 records), but having audiences does not necessarily equal capital (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 38). “Advertisers are interested in the higher-income brackets” (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 38). An illustration from Nielson Media shows an ad spend from July 2004-June 2005 where Ukhozi FM had 6,25 million listeners but only generated an amount of R147, 19 million while East Coast Radio with a 2,06 million listeners generated a capital of R219, 37 million (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 38).

Basically, if top advertisers such as SABMiller a brewer or ABSA and Standard Bank financial service providers are interested in urban radio stations that are more about making capital, 'easy to listen' and 'contemporary' music playing, it becomes a problem for the existence of public radio stations that are bounded by regulations, and even more problematic for the growth of indigenous languages in South Africa because if there are no public radio stations promoting diversity or language pluralism, indigenous languages fade too (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 38).

The South African print media has practiced good growth regarding capital and numerous titles despite the development in new media (MDDA, 2000). Newspapers in the past such as those from the independent black newspapers which mainly existed between 1884-1920 (MDDA, 2000) founded by John Tengo Jabavu who was known as the 'father' of black newspapers such as Imvo Zabantundu put the country’s hard news before advertisements (Couzens, 1976, 3). The boisterous way from segregation to a post-apartheid South Africa, led to a door opening for capital hungry, sensational and less diverse press (Southafricainfo.com, 2013). There are a number of 25 weekly newspapers, a range of regionally and communal newspapers most published in English (SouthAfricainfo.com, 2013). Although almost 14.5 million South Africans purchase the urban daily newspapers and community newspapers are freely circulated to over 5.5 million readers there is still the issue of the 22% of adults (people aged 15 and over) who are considered illiterate in English but can read their home languages (Aitchison and Harley, 2006). The most important event in the South African growing industry is the overgrowing emergence of tabloid newspapers (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 55). They are mainly based on the British model and directed at the 'blue collar' black readers (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 55). Newspapers like the Daily Sun which are sensationally filled and educate less have more advertising than real stories (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 55). This does show a thriving print media sector. However, a closer look at the 'mainstream' side of the newspaper industry in South Africa, shows that things are not as great for the 'serious' and news focused newspapers (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 55).

Mainstream daily newspapers (between them) in the year 2006 have lost about 121 971 copies (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 56). Sowetan was the biggest loser, with a reduction of 35,2% from 203 352 to 131 714 (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 56) An attempt at increasing circulation pushed the newspaper from being mainstream to sensational, when the story of a cop and warder were published in 2011 (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 56). However, the reduction in the mainstream newspaper as mentioned earlier has not amounted to a loss for some other newspapers such as Beeld where unlike Sowetan gained a +2, 5% of circulation (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 56-57). Furthermore, like radio stations in the newspaper industry circulation does not necessarily mean profit (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 57) whereby the success of Daily Sun and its attraction towards new readers may not mean higher profits. Since its focus on the small group of the middle class and its selling price is lower than other newspapers (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 57).

Some South African newspaper owners include Naspers LTD a conglomerate media industry owning Rapport, Beeld, City Press and four others. Caxton and CTP group which mostly owns free community newspapers such as the Randburg Sun or Rosebank Killanery Gazette (Sidego, 2002, 12). These companies are publicly listed in the Johannesburg Securities Exchange and with regards to ownership and control companies are transparent and are allowed to publish financial and other information though according to the stock exchange regulations (Sidego, 2002, 13). Another significant riding theme in the ownership of South African media is black economic empowerment (Cornell, 2008). Avusa formely known as Johnic Communications is a Black Economic Empowerment media company and owns publications such as the The Sowetan, Sunday World, and 11 others (Cornell, 2008). It is listed as the only JSE black controlled media group (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 57)

Diversity in the news coverage has seen a greater move in content with newspapers covering stories on neglected areas and population groups (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 58). Daily Sun tries to cater for 'blue collar' labourers, contributing to a more diverse South African newspaper society (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 58). While the existence of indigenous newspapers such Isolezwe (IsiZulu) have tried to contribute to this trend though lacking in it being completely indigenous (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 58). Its editor Thulani Mbathi describes the newspaper as being about modernising the Zulu tradition (epaperstoday.com, 2012). But according to the critics the newspaper is more fanagalo (a simplified version of the Zulu language) especially when compared to other indigenously published newspapers such as Rapport a Sunday Afrikaans newspaper owned by Media24 and caters for the Afrikaans community (ods24, 2011).

Nevertheless, with mainstream newspapers targeting specific groups international fundamental titles, concern is that diversity and local coverage will be the side that will lose (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 58). Concentration on ownership is leading to less voices and South African issues not being represented especially since publishers try to keep their costs low when portions of resources are shared (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 58). That is, newspapers from the same media company will include the same stories.

However, the MDDA (Media Diversity Development Agency) is pushing to further diversity in the South African media industry and centres its publications on the disregarded audiences such as people from rural and township areas and or open doors for publishers who will aim to establish newspapers in language different than English or Afrikaans (MDDA, 2000). Even though language pluralism and diversity in South Africa is currently more promoted in the radio industry with radio stations being branched in the countries languages there is still that problem of acquiring resources that will enable stations to have branches for the youth and grow indigenous languages within that group (MDDA, 2000). As for community radio which is meant to represent historically disadvantaged communities is more onerous than expected in that community stations have to rely on used resources from the public or private sector. Also they do not represent communities and it is more about survival than educating or informing (MDDA, 2000). While in the newspaper industry the drive to generate revenue has drifted the whole purpose of news reading from being informative to sensationalised (Milne and Taylor, 2006, 58). As even though readership is growing, it is increasing more in the tabloid side than the mainstream (MDDA, 2000).

In summary, to compare the language and diversity in the newspaper and radio industry would be improper. As separately each industry is faced with contrary problems. The radio industry has been attempting to keep the indigenous languages alive where there already exist stations that cater for all 11 South African official languages. It is the financial side (lack of advertising among other reasons) of the problems that might lead to the extinction of these radio stations in the future. Furthermore, that problem of not having enough youth radio personalities that speak indigenous languages on air other than English or Afrikaans will add to the extinction. While the newspaper industry has a long way to go in promoting languages as indigenous languages are not represented.…...

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