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Media-democracy dynamic

The democratization process in transitional societies around the world - and also in Africa - has been far from uniform.There is a need to question the extent to which changes in these countries constituted a thorough-going transformation of society or whether instead this has resulted in the repositioning of, or partnerships between, elites (Sparks, 2009). Spark’s analysis of media in countries moving from authoritarian to democratic rule finds significant continuities in ‘both institutions and personnel between the old regime and the new’ with ‘highly politicised interventions into broadcasting and a highly partisan press’ and ‘licensing of new commercial broadcasters’ in a manner that favours those connected to ‘political power’ (Sparks, 2009: 196). Close attention should also be paid to ‘how media institutions that emerge from transitions are strongly influenced by the political elite’. Sparks uses this to argue that ‘the degree of démocratisation, if any, is secondary’ and in the case of South Africa in particular he notes that the ‘... South African media has a fair degree of fit with the elite continuity model’, with some modifications needed to the model arising from the specific context (ibid.: 197,213).

It can be noted that in the immediate aftermath of apartheid, there was a general mood of‘never again’ in the reconstruction of South African media policy, i.e. never again would the media be used as a tool for powerfill elites, never again would censorship be allowed to deter the voices of the most vulnerable, never again would the public broadcaster function as an organ of state. However, as observed by Sparks above and will be shown below, the South African public-service broadcaster’s emergence from apartheid seems to belie this affirmative approach to transform. Amongst others, it reveals a changing dynamic in the negotiation of power in the representation of party politics (as well as the politics of identity) in South Africa.

The political transition in South Africa has had a noticeable influence on media democracy that emphasizes the need to adequately assess and account for the specificities of the post-apartheid context, especially as it pertains to the media landscape. South Africa’s media issues, as with media in other BRICS contexts, challenge generalizations about the media-democracy link common in the field of media and communication. Berger’s questioning of the media-democracy relationship is especially apropos here:

[mjany writers (but not enough) have sounded warnings about lifting concepts like media and democracy from Western conditions and applying them unthinkingly to Africa ... Most striking of all is the reliance in much of the writing upon unreflective, conventional wisdom about the way that ‘media’ is an important element in ‘democracy’ - which ‘wisdoms’ in turn tend to be limited to a liberal pluralist paradigm ... [whose] suitability to Africa is questionable.

(Berger, 2002: 21)

Berger argues that there is a need to look at alternative paradigms of democracy and of media in Southern Africa. Nyamnjoh (2011) agrees but advocates caution in this regard, noting that, despite the critique of the dominant, normative, liberal-democratic paradigm, one should avoid the trap of an idealization of Africa. He advises against a blind, romantic essentialism of‘African values’ that, according to him, many proponents of Afrocentric thought are prone to. Instead, a ‘flexible theoretical position is needed ... one which takes into account the multiple, overlapping spaces and flows in the era of globalization yet refuses to gloss over global power imbalances and material inequalities’ (Nyamnjoh, 2011: 20).

Clearly, a one-size-fits-all approach to the concept of democracy creates problems.The above critiques are not meant to suggest that democracy and media democratization are alien to Africans. For example, freedom of expression, a vital aspect of democracy and economic development, is, in our view, consistent with the African concept of ubuntu as it enables people to be the most they can be, facilitating the establishment of communities (Chasi, 2015: 91). Hence, we argue that the democratization of broadcasting is essential for citizen participation in the African democratization process.

In Southern Africa, not least as a result of the great economic divide, free-to-air public broadcasters still attract the majority of the viewing and listening audience, but questions about public-service broadcasting are being articulated ever more loudly. Commentators, including civil society organizations, print media and academics, question African public-service broadcasting’s purpose, how it should be defined and who it should be accountable to (milton and Fourie 2015; Mano, 2016). For our purpose, we have to question what the role or place of media - and here specifically public-service broadcasting - is and/or should be in relation to democracy, without falling prey to ‘fortress journalism syndrome’ (Nordenstreng, 2004). A nuanced analysis, in our view, necessitates an understanding of the interplay between media transformation and broader societal change. More importantly, it requires ‘engaging, and even sometimes building, epistemological references and frames for understanding media, its scope (that is, what may count as media) that thus far may not exist’ (Shome, 2017: 70).

In South Africa - as elsewhere on the continent - the most important factor that has influenced the development of broadcasting is the varying shades of colonial legacy (Eko, 2000: 87). Colonialism not only placed broadcasting and other public institutions outside African life, it also, crucially, positioned them as vehicles for taking Africans out of a rural, subsistence existence, which had hitherto been dominated by traditional philosophies, practices and personality types. Eko maintains that the modernization process dismissed African life and saw broadcasting as a way to diminish its role in public life. The institutions of public-service broadcasting were part of a well-orchestrated modernization approach that aimed to condition African populations to distrust traditional knowledge and ‘Africanness’ as a precondition for development (Eko, 2000). Hence, it could be argued that the problem with public-service broadcasting in South Africa is that it is linked to apartheid and failed modernization programmes from the 1950s and 1960s, which sought to bring ‘Western-type’ development by destroying local knowledge and traditions (West and Fair, 1993; De Beer and Tomaselli, 2000).

Following Mararike’s (1998) work on African philosophy and development, Mano (2005) has used the metaphor of'kudyiswa’ in Shona, ‘ukudhliswa’ in Ndebele, ‘guthaiga’ in Gikuyu or ‘mid’ in Kikamba to discuss this damaging conditioning of media in Africa (Mano, 2005). Each of these terms refers to the administering of a traditional love potion to one’s lover in order to ensure that they remain devoted in their love for you in a myopic manner. The overall effect of the ‘kudyiswa’ process is to create a client out of someone. We see this as relevant to the discussion of how colonialism’s embeddedness in modernization thinking refused to acknowledge an Africanist ethos in approaches to public broadcasting. As Mararike boldly states:

[the] ‘kudyiswa’ process ... must be seen as ‘conditioning’ a practice of ‘knowing’ that constructs an object as ‘external’ to the ‘knower’ and ‘independent of him or her.’The role .... is to create and preserve conceptions and means of description for the world as it is for those who have power rather than ‘as it is’ for the ruled and power-less.The ‘kudyiswa’ process... is a process of‘mental conditioning’ or ‘ideological indoctrination’ and ‘brainwashing’.

(Mararike, 1998: 90)

The ‘kudyiswa’ process arguably shaped the development of public service broadcasting (PSB) in Africa and was effective on the basis of side-lining locally-generated historic knowledge, local actors and processes. This heritage might explain why postcolonial broadcasters have struggled to find a social fit. As institutions, they remain subservient and serviceable to modernization agendas (ostensibly in service of the ‘developmental state’ of the emerging democracies) that were decidedly against the local. It is our argument that current public-service broadcasters, including the SABC, need to overcome restrictive media policies, including undemocratic, colonial developmental legacies.

Alhassan and Chakravartty concur, noting that ‘[m]edia and communication policy for nations and societies in Africa, Asia and Latin America is “deeply embedded” in discourses and practices of development and modernisation’, which can be traced ‘to a longer history of colonial, national and international governance’ (Alhassan and Chakravartty, 2011: 366). For them,‘the legacy of the colonial encounter ... is visible in the ways in which the actual state practices of policy-making often betray ... the unresolved fundamental questions of inequality and exclusion, upon which national discourses of development are founded’ (ibid.).

There is therefore a need to re-theorize the role of the postcolonial state in discussions of media and communication policy in emerging postcolonial nation states to be more in step with actual conditions on the ground.

A re-theorized PSB framework needs to encourage participation through all its structures and processes. Chasi and Rodney-Gumede (2016) argue in this regard that we need to re-imagine PSB in ways that will speak to our (African) realities. In essence, we are arguing here for a destruction of the ‘crooked room’, which, in our view, will allow something else to emerge. This metaphor is utilized by Melissa Harris-Perry (2011) to explore the particular epistemology that Black women face in ‘white spaces’. Perry argues that, when Black women are confronted with race and gender stereotypes, they are standing in a ‘crooked room’, and that they have to figure out which way is up. When they find themselves being inundated with warped and distorted images of their humanity, some Black women tilt and contort themselves in order to ‘fit’ the distortion rather than stand up straight in a space that is extremely disorienting and uncomfortable.

We borrow this metaphor to elucidate on the strictures to reform media in the global South arising from hostile, colonial-era structures. We argue that, in these cases, many behave in a way that compels them to fit the alien world around them, a world which then rewards them with accolades about how well behaved they are, but which never quite meets their need to be more appreciated and respected. At core is a question about their misrecognition and denial of dignity. Scholars from the global South cannot give up; they need to produce more knowledge informed by and capable of informing their (un)changing media context. We will illustrate this by unpacking our primary argument, i.e. that public-service broadcasters must engender democratic participation and inclusive democratic communication aligned to the needs and realities of African lived experiences.

Public-broadcasting policy frameworks in African contexts veer towards inward-looking policy structures, which complicates policy-negotiation. Contemporary broadcast policy in Africa, we argue, is shaped by the process of ‘kudyisiva’. Civic groups, for example, have not been sufficiently involved in media policy-making because of the centralization of processes by the state, specifically the overzealous involvement of Ministries of Information. Where civic groups do engage, they by and large tend to fall back on an elitist, paternalistic, Reithian-perception of the public-service ethos, negating in their deliberations a thorough focus on, or in some cases even any acknowledgement of, an African ethos. This is in part a result of the ways in which Africanist media models such as ‘journalism for social change’,‘communal journalism’ and ‘journalism inspired by oral discourse’ (Skjerdal, 2012: 637) have been misused by autocratic governments to serve their own political ends, instead of the common good - or, to phrase this in PSB language, the public interest. However, it is also primarily a manifestation of the lack of consensus about what an Africanist ethos in PSB might entail (Berger, 2002; Skjerdal 2012).

To get out of this quagmire, there is need for democratization to step in line with Afrokology in a process of ‘gutahiko’ or ‘kuritsisiva’, i.e., the expunging of colonial thought or then, the decolonization of PSB in Southern Africa. We propose Afrokology as a key African-facing heuristic toolkit that can counter the ‘kudyiswa’ process (Mano and milton, 2021). If ‘kudyiswa’ is an expression of the colonization that ‘continues to be administered to the African population and is producing more damaging results than before’ (Mararike, 1998: 93), then the process of ‘kurutsiswa’ can neutralize, expunge and ultimately insulate against the ‘kudyiswa’ effects, and herein lies the lesson for an Afrokology' of PSB. First, the causes of the problems with PSB and the frameworks within which they operate need to be identified clearly.

Following this, there is a need to rid Africa of the problem by administering the right kind of medicine at the right time and in correct quantities. Finally, permanent preventative measures must be put in place. To this end then, we appreciate Berger’s assertion that ‘... if much African media has historically played a political propagandist role or a developmentalist role, it does not serve any explanatory purpose to hold up a watchdog model and measure Africa’s historic deficit. What needs to be explained is not what did not happen, but rather what did’ (Berger, 2002: 21— 22). We offer a contextually driven explication of the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s emergence from apartheid era state apparatus to contemporary (fledgling) public-service broadcaster with a broader democratic mandate.

 
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