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Date: Fri, 13 Oct 1995 03:56:29 -0200
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From: ancdip@wn.apc.org (ANC Information)
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Subject: Mayibuye - October 1995

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SA needs a diversity of media ownership

By Tokyo Sexwale, Gauteng ANC chairperson
in Mayibuye, Opinion piece, Vol. 6, no. 6
October 1995

Media in South Africa should be owned by people from all sectors of the rainbow nation, writes Gauteng ANC chairperson Tokyo Sexwale.

In some countries, governments moved quickly after wars of liberation to take control of the mass media. But not ours: we did not set up a Mass Media Trust to run the press and force it to toe the ANC line. Nor did we introduce anti-trust legislation to break up the media monopolies.

That is why Gauteng newspapers is owned by Independent Newspapers, not by the Gauteng Provincial Government. And as the name says, the company is completely independent of government control.

As it turned out, our government has not acted against the media, despite the battery of criticism we have faced in our first 16 months in office. We may have exchanged harsh words with editors - but we have always honoured the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the press which we wrote into the constitution, and we will defend them vigorously.

But that does not mean that we are satisfied with the current ownership and control of the media. In fact, we believe that mass media institutions are lagging behind other sectors in transforming themselves to suit the new South African environment.

Many major South African companies have restructured their operations to involved disadvantaged communities and broaden the base of the economy. Companies which have benefitted from the skewed economic system created by apartheid have transformed their share structures in the post-apartheid period to give other South Africans a share in their wealth.

They have unbundled, set up new share options, involved their staff in key issues, and have generally adopted a business posture which is in line with the requirements of our new democracy.

In addition, they have demonstrated a sense of economic patriotism, investing in the people of South Africa and building truly South African business initiatives. Independent Newspapers, however, went the other way. The old "Aunty Argus" is now as South African as Irish whiskey. And, as we sit here, it is even getting more Irish, rather than less. Just a few days ago we learnt that O'Reilly's share of this company is going to increase to 60 percent.

The fact that a foreign investor is the majority shareholder in a South African media institution is a cause for concern. Yes, we need foreign investment in South Africa. But not, we believe, to the extent that we have already seen in Independent Newspapers.

The IBA Act already prevents majority foreign ownership of broadcasting institutions, and we believe the same principle should apply with the print media. We need limitations on the degree of foreign ownership of media institutions. We need a truly South African media to tell the South African story, and South African ownership and control is the best way to make sure this happens.

But there is a bigger problem with Tony O'Reilly's majority share in Independent Newspapers. It is the fact that anyone should own 60 percent of a powerful media institution such as this.

Our concern would be the same whether it was Tony O'Reilly or Nthato Motlana, or Rupert Murdoch or Lawrence Mavundla. Because of the influence of the media in shaping opinions, we must guard against the concentration of ownership in the hands of a small group of people.

It is precisely because we need a diversity of ideas that we need a diversity of ownership. And that principle extends both to the number of institutions which are able to publish and broadcast, and to the ownership structure of those individual institutions.

Deputy president Thabo Mbeki will soon be convening an independent panel to look at this and many other aspects of the media, which will be developed into a communication policy for South Africa. We are confident that this panel will make no attempts to regulate what the media says, nor will it infringe on the rights of South Africans to express themselves on issues which concern them.

For us, the priority will be to bring about a media system which provides for the diverse information needs of our people - particularly those who have been deprived of information. And we hope the panel will help us to develop media which will reflect the South African reality and which will tell the South African story - media which is owned and run by people from all sectors of the rainbow nation.

As a provincial government, we will be looking at the panel to provide for maximum freedom of expression for the people of Gauteng. And we hope it will do so by empowering the maximum number of people to publish or broadcast without fear of being pushed out of the market or of being swallowed up by a multi-media giant.

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