Joe Mjwara address to NAB's AGM

01 December 2005
When I got the invitation, I had to ask myself what more can still be said especially to yourselves who have been active participants in the developments and achievements that have characterized these past ten years. Saying you have been active participants might even be an understatement taking into consideration that most of what happened were initiated, conceptualized and carried out by you if not together with you as significant role players.

In a way today?s event is a celebration of the way we have worked hand in hand and in unison to meet the challenges thrown at us by our past and in our quest for a broadcasting system that truly reflects our country.

At the onset therefore I need to salute the indispensable role that has been played and continues to be played by the National Association of Broadcasters in building a unified industry that can take its place in the developments that seek to give South African what they deserve. You will undoubtedly know that the mandate of broadcasting goes to the very heart of who we are as South Africans. It is about our identity, it is about our creativity, its is about our self expression and more importantly it is about us being informed about socio-political developments that enable us to take part in the shaping of our country for the better. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that your contributions as the National Broadcasting Association and as individual broadcasters reaches further than the sector itself but touches every South African in a meaningful and practical manner.

Looking back over the past ten years there is a lesson that were learnt that I would like to emphasize as it made today?s reality possible. The same lesson is being emphasized because it will ensure that our future will brighter than our past.

Even though our system operates at three levels: the policy, regulatory and operations domain and even though the system, as whole, represents the public, commercial and community parts and because of this diversity we represented different and at times differing perspective we non-the-less learnt fairly early that we were part of an indispensable whole. The system could not function without ongoing dialogue and consensus on all important aspects of the sector. We have always felt that the National Association is a partner whose contributions to our thinking were indispensable in order for us to arrive at a polished product. It is this spirit that characterized our discussions during the process of drafting the Broadcasting White Paper, the Broadcasting Act, the Broadcasting Amendment Act, the various investigations and analysis that we conducted over the years. Its not that we did not at times hold differing positions, differing mandates entail different positions, Yet at the end of all the discussions we always emerged sharing significant consensus on what needs to be done. Over the years and because of this accommodation we have not spent a lot of time bickering, fighting and mobilizing against each other. This valuable time has instead been invested in productive work by all the constituent parts.

These days government spends considerable time encouraging partnerships between it and the different sectors of the economy. Yet we found each other without any undue effort and have continued to maintain this bond. We need to be aware of this fact so that we appreciate the positive working environment that it engendered which in turn has ensured that all our collective objectives have been met. As we search for a new policy environment to encourage the up take and deployment of digital technologies we must bear this lesson in mind that we achieve more be engaging, influencing each other through ongoing dialogue and participation. Best results that take into consideration interests of each and every one of us flow from this approach.

Before I start on challenges, it is prudent to record the remarkable achievements that we managed to achieve together. Even though it would be pointless to spend all the time given to me talking about what we have already achieved, it is important to talk about these so as to lay a foundation and a context to the challenges that face us going forward.

From the beginning we agreed that the apartheid broadcasting system that sought to enshrine an ethos of inequality and unequal access to economic means including broadcasting means was not a basis in which we were going to build a broadcasting dispensation that reflected our country. Accordingly we bound ourselves to an outcome that will ensure the ownership and operation of the broadcasting assets in a manner that is inclusive of all the people of South Africa. Long before any talk of empowerment charters, we had committed to ensure that no less than 20% of ownership would reside in the hands of the previously disadvantaged. We also committed to look for and find people from the disadvantaged backgrounds who could sit at board and managerial levels in order to make this empowerment meaningful. Not a single broadcaster questioned where the money was to come from? No whining about why should the broadcasters empower any one. Mind you there was no national consensus that t should be done at the time. Today we can celebrate the status of being the most empowered sector in terms of South African industries precisely because we embraced and defined change when no one else thought it imperative and important to do so at the time.

I am sure it comes to you as a surprise to hear that there are segments of the South African society that have not yet come round to accepting the need to give people from the previous disadvantaged backgrounds a stake in the market. Or to hear those who argue that blacks are not sophisticated enough to own, manage and run some of the companies that operate in South Africa. Every time I come across such attitudes, I praise God for the foresight of the people who own and run the broadcasting enterprises.
Empowerment by the sector took another dimension to involve those who are in the supply chain. When the IBA insisted that a quota of South African productions should be instituted, that the broadcasters must pay from their sources to enable such a quota and that 40% of the work must be allocated to independent producers, again there was not a public outcry. No voices of dissent challenging the need for such a policy option. Instead the broadcasters settled down to work leading to a situation in which we can find South African expressions in our electronic media space. I need not remind you what other sectors would have done. The country would have been plunged into a whining campaign decrying the right of our society to impose any public obligations on the operators.

Today, even though more could still be done, we are blessed with a plethora of programmes that reflect out identity, our way of life in all its unity and diversity. We have programmes that offer a balanced view of South Africa enabling everyone to participate in our democratic life as informed citizens. Interestingly South Africans continue to indicate that it is electronic media that they turn to primarily for their information.

The spectacular financial returns that you are enjoying come after a period in which there was considerable belt tightening when our economy suffered because of international events. It is a tribute to you all that you managed to wither the storm. Except for 2 stations that went under, all of you came out wiser, stronger and eager to serve South Africa. We should not forget that many of you were green fields who had not yet managed to be profitable when the economic challenges started. That you are around speaks volumes about the ability of your management to adapt to the adverse situation. May the current good economy climate last for ever and enhance your ability as profitable entities to contribute more to the reflection of our life.

The challenges we continue to face I dare say are substantially more complex than what most people realize. A number of components of are intrinsically in conflict with each needing all of us and all the time to manage the resulting tensions in order to ensure that the system as a whole delivers on the mandate. There are deep contradictions that need to be managed and resolved as we go into the future. Some of these relate to the following facts:

Ours is a system founded on advertising revenues yet primarily designed to meet public objectives. It is a system designed, as I indicated earlier, to offer diversity of views and voices yet reliant on the private sector to make this possible and acknowledging the right of the private sector to place its money where it chooses. It is a system that demands social programmes that are inclusive during prime time, yet acknowledging that prime time is pay time for all the operators. It is a system designed to meet local, regional and national needs, doing so in a unifying manner yet providing no incentives nor support in case of market failures in these different spheres. Over the past en years policy has attempted to glue the system together despite these inherent contradictions. Have we succeeded in doing so and giving South Africans a broadcasting system that they can truly say they deserve? I would not hasten to offer my views on this. Safe that history will be the judge, in time all answers to this question will be revealed. But there can be no doubt that if we as South Africans want a broadcasting system that truly serves the needs of our emerging society, we need to move beyond rhetoric and put our money where it is critically needed. Resourcing the broadcasting system, whiles acknowledging that the private sector will have a role to play, is perhaps the greatest challenge of our times. The question is how do we build a consensus that it is the right thing to do to invest a R1bn plus in broadcasting in order for us to ensure that the needs of al South Africans are met? How do we convince the powers that be that investment in broadcasting is as crucial as investment in education, health and other social services? How do we convince the country that some broadcasting services and public broadcasting in particular is a public good that deserve public support like any other public good?

May be nearer to us should not the National Association of Broadcasting build a consensus on this issue and make its position known as a position of the entire industry? If the NAB must enter this discourse how do it and what benefits will flow to other constituent parts of the broadcasting system?

A second challenge that I would like to touch upon relates to the integration of broadcasting into the converged information and networked society. We are all aware at the pace at which convergence is unfolding blurring all the previous boundaries between telecommunications, IT and broadcasting. Broadband services already are offering a bundled service of voice telephony, video on demand or near demand and data services not before long mobile services will be offering broadcasting on demand as part of their product offerings.

Within the next 5 years it is envisaged that a revolution will consolidate in the electronic communications environment further destroying traditional boundaries and distinction between broadcasting, telecommunications, IT and the web. A number of administrations have already put in place policies to facilitate this revolution. South Africa is currently finalizing its plans to encourage and nurture the convergence of these different markets and services.

This convergence will be underpinned by the Converged Broadband Wireless Platform characterized by a horizontal communications model where different access technologies such as cellular, cordless, wireless area networks, short range wireless connectivity and fixed networks will be combined on a single platform. The same end user equipment will be flexible enough to work in wireless access domain as well as in mobile cellular networks and to receive different services and offerings. The mobile terminal will be the most important means of communication as this single piece of equipment with a single number or personal identity will dominate the wireless communications industry. This technology will offer seamless communications between the office, home and mobile environments. In this way the subscribers will experience improved quality, less dropped calls, a broader range of products and applications coupled with high data rates and freedom of movement.

This IP based communications system will place enormous amount of pressure on all current operators whilst enabling new entrants to offer a far more extensive range of services that will fundamentally alter the market. What does this future hold for broadcasting organizations? Without any doubt, we can today say it heralds change and we need to interact with this future with the view to broaden beyond what and who we are currently.

As part of interacting with this future, we need to finalize the strategy to migrate all the broadcasting services to a digital framework. And we need to do this as a matter of urgency. Let me thank the industry participants who are part of the Digital Migration Working Group and urge that this work should be prioritized. But more importantly the far reaching changes to the environment that are in the horizon already point to the need for a short migration period than we had envisaged earlier. Convergence is happening at a fast speed. Broadcasting is not the only contributor to that change. If we delay others will still a march on our sector and use their technological high-sights to invade our space. We need to respond to the environment around us and match it in terms of speed and pace. In my mind we do not have the luxury of fifteen to twenty years to integrate broadcasting into the multimedia offerings that will soon define the electronic media space.

In conclusion Chairperson let me reaffirm my faith that the broadcasting system will meet and deal effectively with the challenge of ensuring the future for all those who are participants today. I say so because in the face of social, economic, financial and geographic obstacles we have worked together to produce a broadcasting system that mostly works. There may be some flaws and imperfections, some reflecting the past where we come from, some reflecting the difficulties we have faced and compromises we adopted yet the system functions and delivers on its mandate. As much as we united to achieve what we achieved, we have it within our power to unite and develop a glorious future for the South African broadcasting industry or do I dare say a glorious future for South African content industries in a converged environment?

I thank You



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