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More communities get to hear and see themselves in the media

Written by Albert Pule
The people of Soweto can today switch on their television sets to watch people they know, in familiar surroundings, addressing issues specific to their communities in languages they speak.

Since the advent of Soweto TV, the community has been able to watch programmes with local content and interact with the station through its community outreach programmes.

Unlike Commercial TV stations, Soweto TV is not out to make money, but to uplift the community. Marketing Manager at the station Jonathan Ramotsei says they are running long-term projects every month across different sections of Soweto. “We run a Community Project called Making a Difference. This is a project that tackles social challenges facing the community of Soweto. We also run a learnership programme that is aimed at developing television skills in most of Soweto.”

The growth of Soweto TV results from efforts to diversify the local media landscape. It is part of efforts by the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) to encourage community media. Lumko Mtimde, CEO of the MDDA, says the growth of community media in the country gives life and meaning to the Constitutional rights of freedom of expression and access to information enshrined in the Constitution.

Since it was set up in 2003, the MDDA, in partnership with various institutions, has launched a variety of initiatives to promote and support the development of new media.

Speaking at a recent conference to celebrate a decade of community media, Minister in the Presidency for Monitoring and Evaluation Collins Chabane said government’s aim of supporting MDDA was to ensure that there is transformation in the ownership of media in the country.

“Government’s interest in the media trans- formation process is to ensure that the media sector develops and transforms from within, in order to contribute to the broader development of society and economy.

“Government's interest is also to have a financially viable and sustainable community media which is very important in achieving real media diversity in our country. The voices of our communities rely more on this platform than in the commercial press which is mostly reflective of the voices of those who have money to buy advertising space or the newspaper.”

Mtimde says since it was established, the MDDA has allocated grants totalling R239 million to 487 projects. A total of 2021 people have been trained and 247 bursaries have been provided to different radio and print media.

Though the community media landscape has changed in the past ten years, and significant strides made, the journey has been tough, as explained by Tshepo Thafeng, founder of Soweto TV.

“It has been tough, very tough especially for community TV. When community radio was mushrooming community television was also introduced. But when you applied for a com- munity TV licence, there were no applications for that”.

The absence of TV licence applications forced the Soweto TV to apply for a radio licence and broadcast with a radio licence instead. According to Thafeng, Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) did not issue TV licences at first. “It was only after 2006 that community television license was granted.”

Thafeng’s sentiments were echoed by Mafisa FM (Rustenburg) founder Kopano Molefe, who also said it was tough setting up a community radio station. “It has been a difficult journey in the sense that we were getting into something that we didn’t know. We didn’t understand the challenges we would have to deal with, especially the relationship between community media and government”. He adds though that as the process unfolded, the two parties began to find common ground and he is hopeful that things will improve for the better.

With operators now getting to grips with the system and communities getting used to and supporting the new local players in the field, the future looks bright for community media.