If the performance of media houses in transforming to reflect the country’s demographics were to be gauged, the rating would be 3 out if 10 (perhaps that’s even generous). In twenty years of the country’s democracy, the previously disadvantaged are still conspicuous by their absence in board rooms of almost 90 percent of media houses.
Without downplaying the strides that had been made, a study, which was released late last year by Print and Digital Media SA (PDMSA), did find that the print and digital media had failed to transform in terms of ownership, management control, skills development and employment, equity, especially with reference to women and the disabled.
Subsequently, the Movement for the Transformation of the Media in South Africa (MTMSA), an advocacy group made a sharp verdict in its report. It observed: “There is a trend among media houses to become initiators and participators of political and social change rather than independent commentators and reporters thereof.”
No doubt, it is everyone’s wish to have a media sector that is independent, representative and does not serve the interests of any of the political establishment.
However, what if attempts to transform the media industry, unwittingly, produce a docile and dull entity instead of the authoritative, impartial, robust and engaging beast everyone yearns for?
It might be sound alarmist, but, sadly, it has been established that noble actions don’t always yield the desired result. Unquestionably, consequences of ‘regime’ change at one of the country’s biggest and highly regarded media houses attest to this observation.
Soon after buying Independent Newspapers, the new owner rang new changes which were interpreted as contentious by some media rights entities. There was a revision of the editorial policy, which resulted in a high profile casualty of an editor who lost her job. Some feared whether this portended the trajectory to which the media was headed when new shareholders assume control of boardrooms. Most hope it does not.
Clearly, as South African pursues transformation, what guarantee do we have those new owners of media houses won’t compromise independence (the most abused concept)? Won’t integrity be sold to the highest bidder?