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GrassRoots VS Corporate Media In South Africa

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This is a question that every rich business man and/or a senior politician would want not to confront. But Let us find out by looking at the status quo of media in South Africa. The media of South Africa has a large mass media sector and is one of Africa’s major media centres. While South Africa’s many broadcasters and publications reflect the diversity of the population as a whole, the most commonly used language is English. This is because of the historic influences of the society by the colonialism on the South African population by the British rulers for decades. However, all ten other official languages are represented to some extent or another. Afrikaans is the second most commonly used language, especially in the publishing sector. This is because of the history of the Bantustan Authorities making Afrikaans language a language of instruction and communication in the workplaces and schools around the country since 1940s.

Up until 1994, the country had a thriving alternative press comprising community broadsheets, bilingual weeklies and even student gazette and circulars. After the elections, funding and support for such ventures dried up, but there has been a resurgence of interest in alternative forms of news gathering of late, particularly since the events of 11 September 2001. Press freedom has a chequered history in South Africa.

In history, we have learned that some sectors of the South African media openly criticised the apartheid system and the National Party government. But they were hampered by various amounts of government censorship during the years. This is because the apartheid government also had their own propaganda media, to justify their existence and protected their policies. All in all they were racist white elite protecting their own racist white capitalism. Using the media to oppress the black working class population was one of the mechanisms to sustain and protect apartheid. For example, journalist Donald Woods became renowned after he fled to live in the United Kingdom in exile after helping to expose the truth behind the death of Steve Biko, the leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, along with renowned journalist and current South African politician, Helen Zille.

After 1994, freedom of press was generally guaranteed. Laws such as Media Development and Diversity Act were passed in 2002, to support the grassroots media and to create an enabling environment for media development and diversity which reflects the needs and aspirations of all South Africans: And thereby providing funding for community or grassroots media to catch up with the corporate media world.  The association founded of late 2012 that support also the grassroots media, which are community based, is the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP). It is a vibrant national organisation for advancing the interests of the local grassroots independent print media sector in South Africa. The association comprises mostly small newspapers, but it also represents newsletters, magazines and online publications, all of which are owned by local communities. 

Many community newspapers, radio, TV, online publications and magazines were produced by the communities to meet their own media needs and more so, for income generating purposes. These enterprises were supported by the MDDA, because they carry within themselves the channels that open community market for small businesses as well and for the channels for information distribution into the grassroots layer. But almost 60% of these media collapse in the second year of start up. The reason goes beyond just internal operational or technical challenges, but bigger and bigger.

In every society, the dominating ideas are more the ideas of the ruling class. In capitalist society the ideas that dominate in the political and social landscape are the ideas of the â€‹capitalist​ class; of the “get-rich quick” schemes, people no longer want to work but to get rich quickly; ​people want ​to win tenders, to rob  banks and steal from other people’s, to have nice property without hard work. ​But because there are shopping malls everywhere, more and more people become crazy consumers instead of hard working people to produce and consume what they produce. They become buyers and not workers. They have the ideas that dominate their consciousness, colonise their minds and enslaves their lives. But these dominating ideas are taken far and above by the bourgeoisie mass media across the society – the what-so called the mainstream or corporate media. 

Since the rich or bourgeoisie class is the one in power today in South Africa, as the ruling class, they dominate every sections of the society through the use of the corporate media. In a capitalist society or every bourgeoisie state the mass media and the propaganda system belongs to the most powerful tool for the formation and expression of the public opinion. As a tribute of public opinion, the mass media is used by the ruling class to contribute to helping, in particular, the administration of social phenomena and the activation of the masses in the direction they want the society to take – capitalist direction.

The mass media and the propaganda system are included in the administration scheme because they can help the system shape people’s outlook on things and value. When i say the “people” i do not only singling out individual persons, i mean the society or a certain community as a whole. You would recall that it is people or their communities that establish their own media in the form of radio, print or local gathering for information exchanges. But then after they have established these enterprises they have to play by certain rules setout by the ruling class in the form of legislations. Now if the ruling class is the rich or the bourgeoisies, then these legislations would favour the corporate business interests. The working class and their media is left only with this law “Media Development and Diversity Agency Act, 2002”, to give few millions of rands as sponsorships to the “deserving” community media. The corporate media takes billions of rands in profits from the very same state that the ruling elite make the laws. 

The corporate business elite and the ruling elite are buddies, which are why you would find government ministers serving in these corporations as board members after they have retired from public service or you’ll find a corporate tycoon serving in government in few years. They exchange opportunities between the capitalist state and the capitalist corporations. This is how it is being played.  The working class media is squeezed between a rock and the hard stone while the corporate media is free to exploit the system and make huge profits.

The corporate media is in itself a tool to render reliable assistance to this system in shaping, in particular the working class’s way of thinking and how should think of the future. TV is mostly viewed by the middle class families which are the market for the shopping malls and big retail businesses. Radio as a main source of medium at the grassroots in poorest communities is not as much important as TV. But present the grassroots market in which to exploit. On TV people copy what they see, buy what has been advertised to them, dream to become what it has been shown to them, so they become fake people, by imitation, they saw on TV, they live a lie and become miserable.