South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa's communications media were radically transformed by the political reforms sweeping the country in the 1990s. The most fundamental changes were the gradual easing of government censorship and its abolition in the interim constitution. In spite of frequent government censorship under apartheid, however, South Africans had received news reports through numerous publications and broadcasts.

Under apartheid, a vast array of legislation and regulations had imposed limits on the media. The South African Press Council, for example, had the power to fine newspaper editors for defying emergency regulations, which often barred coverage of political events. Under emergency regulations in the 1980s, journalists were forbidden to report on banned organizations and people; the media were prohibited from reporting events relating to "state security," such as protests and demonstrations. The public then had to rely on the government's Bureau of Information for official reports of political events. And for violating emergency regulations, some journalists were detained--even without being charged--and newspapers were temporarily suspended. Some editors and reporters were prosecuted, and foreign journalists were expelled or refused entry visas. Similarly, the Publications Control Board, under the Publications Act (No. 42) of 1974, censored certain books and movies, especially those dealing with race relations.

In the early 1990s as part of the government's pledge to reform apartheid, many of the emergency regulations relating to the media were removed. Thus, the Protection of Information Act of 1982, which imposed penalties on publications that violated national security, was repealed in February 1990 and less stringent guidelines for protecting sensitive information were established. Thereafter, the press, including numerous mainstream and alternative publications, was generally independent, criticizing both the government in power and the various opposition parties involved in the political transformation.

Radio and Television

South Africa has an estimated 12.1 million radio receivers and more than 3.5 million television sets in the mid-1990s. Radio and television broadcasting (with the exception of M-Net, a privately owned, subscriber-based cable television service) is controlled by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), a statutory body that obtains its revenue from licenses and advertising. It operates twenty-two domestic radio broadcasting services in eleven languages through SABC-Radio, one external radio broadcasting service in seven languages through Channel Africa Radio, and two television channels that broadcast in seven languages through SABC-Television. Although M-Net was the only privately owned television network (with more than 880,000 subscribers), there were at least six privately owned commercial radio stations by 1996.

The most fundamental change in the role of the media in the mid-1990s took place in the SABC, which had been controlled by NP-led governments and had generally expressed government views. In April 1993, a new twenty-five-member SABC board began to prepare the SABC for the postapartheid era as an independent, autonomous, and impartial broadcasting authority. President de Klerk relinquished the right to appoint its board members, and the members of the board were selected publicly for the first time, after an independent judicial panel had screened the nominees to ensure political neutrality. Ironically, however, as a reflection of the new balance of forces in the country, an estimated nineteen of the twenty-five new board members were ANC members or were generally believed to be ANC supporters, and new complaints of political bias in the media began to emerge.

Another major change in the broadcasting system was the establishment of the Independent Broadcasting Authority in January 1994, as authorized by the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act (No. 153) of 1993. The authority consists of a seven-member panel, appointed by the minister of home affairs after a period of public discussion and nominations. The authority in 1994 required all broadcasters to reapply for operating licenses. It issued temporary licenses to most, and it obtained court orders to close down a few broadcast stations that had not applied for licenses. Permanent licenses were issued in 1995, after five months of public hearings and debate over the rules of broadcasting in South Africa.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Journals

More than 5,000 newspapers, magazines, and journals were registered with the South African Department of Home Affairs by January 1994; sixty-six new ones registered in that year, and registration was no longer required after 1994. As in other nations, newspaper and magazine publishers are organized into corporate groupings. Major corporations include the Argus Printing and Publishing Company, Perskor, and Times Media. Newspapers are printed in English, Afrikaans, and several African languages. The country's two national newspapers, which are printed on Sundays, are the Sunday Times and Rapport . Both are printed in several cities, simultaneously. The Sunday Times had a circulation of about 524,164 in 1995, and Rapport , about 396,974. Other major newspapers (and 1995 circulation figures) are City Press (262,203), The Sowetan (204,219), and The Star (199,753) (see table 19, Appendix).

South Africa has more than 300 consumer magazines and 500 trade, technical, and professional publications. Huisgenoot , a weekly Afrikaans publication, sold more than 520,000 issues in 1995, while You , its English counterpart, sold nearly 300,000 issues. The leading business and political magazine is the weekly Financial Mail , with approximately 32,000 subscribers.

The South African Press Association (SAPA) is the country's national news agency. It is a forty-member nonprofit cooperative, engaged in foreign and domestic news-gathering and distribution. Foreign news agencies operating in South Africa include Agence France Presse, Associated Press, Reuters, and United Press International.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress