By Catherine Sasman
A thorough reassessment of public and other broadcasters in the Southern African region is required in view of the changes in the region, said the Southern African Broadcasting Association (SABA).
In its policy document, “On the Move”, the regional body states that public broadcasters regard the opening up of the airwaves as a positive development as it will provide audiences with a wider choice of programming.
The body said a widening of the market would not only be beneficial for radio and television producers, but that public broadcasters would have to reframe broadcasting structures and programming concepts.
“If democracy is to take root and have meaning beyond the formal electoral process, people in Southern Africa must be in a position to understand the changes taking place around them,” the policy document states, adding that public broadcasters serve as an instrument of popular empowerment through programming.
It further states that to enhance the credibility of public service broadcasting (PSB), governance of these entities should be driven by an autonomous board representing the public at large, and that such a board should protect and promote the principles of public broadcasting.
“State-funded and state-controlled broadcasters should transform themselves faster to true public broadcasters accountable to the public,” said Regional Director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Kaitira Kandjii, adding, “The emphasis should be on changing the laws regulating these broadcasters.”
But broadcasters have acknowledged that broadcasting Acts should be introduced where none exist, or be amended to herald the transformational process.
SABA stated that the purpose of broadcast legislation should be to ensure the provision of free and editorially independent broadcasting to guarantee freedom of information.
In Namibia, a Broadcasting Act of 1992 regulates the national broadcaster, with the Minister of Information and Broadcasting appointing the board.
This has often been criticised as allowing undue interference in editorial and operational matters in state-sponsored broadcasting stations.
SABA noted that in view of the proliferation of television channels available via satellite, a regional solution for the regulation of trans-border broadcasting must be found.
The broadcasters recognised that reliable sources of funding for PSBs must be sought through an array of funding mechanisms which include levies on commercial broadcasters, as well as on electricity and telephone services, sponsorships and advertising revenues.
“Where the collection of licence fees seems not feasible, a levy on electricity consumption or telephone bills could be considered. This system appears to be the most social (the higher the consumption, the higher the levy) and efficient one (the electricity authority automatically collects the fees),” SABA recommended.
In addition, the proposed levies on commercial broadcasters is justified because public broadcasting presumably provides services private stations do not offer, and because PSBs often serve as a training ground for staff of commercial stations.
The public broadcasting organisations themselves have undertaken to become economically viable and to use their resources prudently, taking cognisance of the fact that this might require major changes and restructuring.