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Al Jazeera examines transformation in South African media

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Media 1st Mar 2016 Media Source Africa

In this week’s episode of The Listening Post on Al Jazeera, Nicholas Muirhead examines whether the news media in his native South Africa have transformed since the end of apartheid over two decades ago.

“Under apartheid, the media – like every sector – were, for the most part, white-owned and operated,” says Muirhead. “In 1994, when the African National Congress came into power under Nelson Mandela – apparently an avid news consumer – transforming the media was a key priority.”


Muirhead spoke with City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, who authored the book, What If There Were No Whites In South Africa? She warned of the ‘cappuccino effect’ in South African industries – where the workforce is brown at the bottom, but with a white layer on top and a few chocolate sprinkles. Haffajee argues that newsrooms are now transformed in South Africa, but upper management and ownership remain an issue.


Rachel Jafta, chairperson of one of South Africa’s four big media companies, Media24, has a different take. “I have the sense here that perception still has to catch up with reality. Of the four big media houses, Caxton remains the only one that in ownership hasn't transformed. Independent, Times Media Group and Media 24 have black ownership. For Media24, it’s 47%.”


However, Muirhead points out that Media24 is a subsidiary of Naspers, a company that had close ties to the apartheid government. “When you look at Naspers’ board of directors, the cappuccino metaphor makes more sense,” he says. 


In contrast to the print outlets, there is the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). While transformation has been comprehensive there, critics say this has been used as a tool to dilute political output.


As Songezo Zibi, outgoing Business Day editor, told Muirhead: “Is the SABC serving the purpose for which it is conceived in the democratic era? And my answer is it’s got a very questionable performance. Is it therefore transformed from what it was or have we had one form of political culture being replaced by another? I think it’s largely the latter.  And in that sense, SABC has not been transformed for me.”


The transformation goals of 1994 were to create a post-racial society in South Africa. But as Muirhead says, “Media reflects society and if the country has not transformed, then nor will the media. “ 


This episode of The Listening Post, Al Jazeera English's weekly media critique and analysis show, premieres on Saturday, 27 February 2016, at 1030 CAT.  For more information, visit http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/.



The Listening Post is Al Jazeera English’s weekly media review show. It casts a critical eye over not just what gets reported, but how it gets reported – covering the coverage of the news and analyzing global events through the prism of the media.


Presented by Richard Gizbert, The Listening Post brings together media personalities, analysts and diverse audiences to dissect and understand the politics, economics and trends of media worldwide. The broadcast offers perspective and analysis on who is reporting what, the information that’s being left out, and what media consumers really need to know about their information sources.


The Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times: Saturdays 1030 and 2130 (South Africa time - SAST); Sunday at 0430 and Monday at 0530.


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