As the globe celebrates World Radio Day, the Media Development & Diversity Agency (MDDA) has acknowledged the important role played by South Africa’s community radio sector in shaping a robust and sustainable democratic society.
The seventh edition of World Radio Day is being held on 13 February 2018 under the theme ‘Radio and Sports’, with all radio stations, regulatory bodies and related organisations invited to celebrate radio and its contribution to democratic debate through information, entertainment and audience interaction.
From the early days of Cape Town’s Bush Radio, Africa’s oldest community radio station project, to today’s broadcasting landscape which boasts more than 200 stations across the country’s nine provinces, community radio has provided communities with an indispensable platform from which to raise awareness of their grass roots issues, irrespective of race, gender, disability or economic class.
Still a relatively youthful sector, community radio can trace its origins back to Bush Radio, the idea which started in the 1980s, when community activists and alternative media producers explored ways in which media could be used for social upliftment.
The station was officially formed in 1992, broadcasting illegally following numerous attempts to apply for a broadcast license from the apartheid government.
Freedom on the airwaves
It was, however, only after the first democratic elections of 1994 that South Africa saw the liberalisation of the airwaves with the establishment of an independent regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), now the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).
In subsequent years, some 275 community radio stations have been licenced.
In 2002, the MDDA Act (Act no 14 of 2002) was promulgated giving further, significant impetus to the transformation of the media.
A public-private partnership, the MDDA’s mandate is to promote media development and diversity by providing the most disadvantaged, those traditionally side lined by the mainstream media, with access to information in the language of their communities.
MDDA Acting Board Chairperson, Musa Sishange, said listenership figures bear testimony to the impact of these interventions.
He said that published figures indicate that listenership of community radio, compared to the total radio audience, has moved from 8% in 1997 to 28% in 2017, and a national listenership of nine million, out of the total radio audience of approximately 33 million.
“Even more encouragingly is the community radio sector’s contribution to the promotion of indigenous languages and cultural groups. Today, across the more than 150 community broadcast projects that have received funding from the MDDA, the full spectrum of South African languages can be heard.
“World Radio Day is an ideal opportunity to congratulate the community radio sector on the significant strides they have made, and on their invaluable contribution to the building and reconstruction of the social fabric of our communities,” Sishange said.
The MDDA is a statutory development agency, deriving its mandate, from Section 16 and 32 of the Constitution Act No. 108 of 1996, thereby providing for freedom of expression and access to information.
As a partnership between the South African Government and major print and broadcasting companies, the agency promotes and assists in the development of community media and small commercial media in South Africa and the transformation of the media, by providing support (financial, capacity building, etc.) in terms of the MDDA Act No 14 of 2002.
It also aims to raise public awareness with regards to media development and diversity issues, and to encourage media literacy and a culture of reading.