SA’s audio broadcasting sector crucial to deepening democracy
On 13 February 2023, the National Association of Broadcasters joined UNESCO and various broadcasting industry role players to commemorate World Radio Day and highlight radio’s role in promoting diversity and serving as a “platform for democratic discourse”. Radio keeps people entertained and abreast of current affairs, while shaping public opinion. It is also a trusted source of information, and this is evidenced by the fact that it remains popular, despite the increased use of new online platforms and technologies.
The Broadcast Research Council of South Africa’s (BRC SA) RAMS Amplify (April – August 2021) report found that radio’s weekly reach was 82%, meaning that 34.9 million South Africans had listened to the radio in the past seven days. Furthermore, the BRC SA document noted that the total time spent listening to radio per average day was five hours and 3 minutes.
IMAGE: Aline Viana Prado.
The theme of this year’s World Radio Day was “radio and peace”, and in our country, this broadcasting platform has consistently evolved alongside our fledgling democracy. Next year will mark 30 years of democracy in South Africa and independent radio has flourished throughout this period – a feat which we should all be proud of as citizens.
From IBA to ICASA: Regulation in the public interest
Soon after South Africa held its first democratic elections in 1994, the foundations of free and independent radio began to be laid when the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) was formed. The IBA’s mandate was to regulate broadcasting in South Africa; it operated independently, and its formation was a positive development toward “freeing the airwaves” as broadcasting was under the control of the former Department of Home Affairs.
In the same year it was established, the IBA processed hundreds of licence applications from various groups which intended to set up community radio stations in different parts of South Africa. Today, our country has 207 community radio stations. Community radio enjoys recognition as a key part of the broadcasting landscape, along with its public and commercial radio counterparts. Together, all three tiers of our radio broadcasting industry contribute to providing diversity for listeners and information to even the most remote parts of the country.
The IBA would later merge with the South African Telecommunications Regulatory Authority in 2000 to become the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). The entity is “responsible for regulating the telecommunications, broadcasting and postal industries in the public interest and ensur[ing] affordable services of a high quality for all South Africans”. ICASA also issues broadcasting licences, makes regulations and imposes licence conditions, among other responsibilities.
BCCSA’s role in protecting listeners
Whilst the diversity and freedom of expression provided by SA radio broadcasters is to be lauded, it is equally important that listeners are protected from harmful content. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) ensures that “broadcasters who are members of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) comply with the Codes of Conduct relating to broadcasting (radio and television) as well as online content for signatories that offer online content services”.
It was for this reason that the BCCSA was formed in 1993 by members of the NAB – a voluntary association that promotes a broadcasting industry grounded in the principles of democracy, diversity, and freedom of expression. The Online Content Services Code of Conduct launched early this month is one way the broadcasting industry is keeping up with the latest developments in the audio broadcasting industry. The “Online Code” ensures that the online content offerings of its signatories adhere to the Films and Publications Board’s regulatory framework.
Independent radio is an important instrument as an enabler for citizens to participate in the democratic process. It is an easily accessible medium of communication and, as our Constitutional democracy matures, radio will need to be protected and promoted so that we can all continue to enjoy and exercise our guaranteed rights and freedoms. World Radio Day reminded us of how far we have come and invited all of us to imagine a future where all our voices are heard, and we all play a part in deepening democracy in South Africa. Let us celebrate this medium that unites us and commit to seeing its continued development.