Southern Africa: Can we celebrate media freedom?

Southern Africa: Can we celebrate media freedom?

Date: October 25, 2013
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Media Freedom Day seminar held at Parliament, Cape Town on Friday 18 October 2013. Photo: Tarisai NyamwedaJohannesburg, 25 October: After returning from the Media Freedom Day seminar held at Parliament in Cape Town last week, I opened three of today’s newspapers, and found hardly any women on the front or back sports pages. I had to ask, as we count down to twenty years of democracy, how free is the media when women are so glaringly absent?

We commemorate Media Freedom Day to remember 19 October 1977 or Black Wednesday, when the apartheid government unleashed a vicious clamp down on press freedom. Since the end of the apartheid regime, South African media has welcomed transformation to ensure media freedom, diversity and to foster a well-informed society.

This year’s seminar brought together various media practitioners, government and civil society to celebrate 19 years of media freedom & 10 Years of media development and diversity.

Speaking at the seminar, Executive Director of the National Association of Broadcasters, Nadia Bulbulia, noted that the media cannot be transformed if the oppressed and exploited are prevented from any meaningful role. It is true then that this transformation will only be meaningful if we employ gender balance as a key indicator of diversity and media freedom. Media freedom and gender equality are inextricably linked and we cannot have one without the other. Furthermore, the media remains a powerful agent of change for achieving gender equality and broader social transformation.

The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which South Africa has ratified, calls for 50% women at all levels of decision-making in the media, as well as in media content, by 2015.

William Bird, Director of Media Monitoring Africa said,”52% of the population are women but only 21% of their voices are in the media. This is not in touch with reality.” Eric Kholwane, chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communication agreed saying that women still lack a voice in the media sector.

According to the 2013 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer published by Gender Links and the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance, out of all Southern African countries South Africa has the highest proportion of women sources at 28%. However, this is still far below the 50% target. The regional average is at a poor 22%, with Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo with the lowest in SADC at 17%.

According the 2013 Report on the Transformation of Print and Digital Media in South Africa, which was presented at the seminar, senior posts in boardrooms and newsrooms remain the domain of men. “Women hardly set foot in boardrooms and have virtually no presence in ownership and management,” reads the report.

Similarly, the 2009 Gender Links Glass Ceilings Study shows that women in Southern Africa constitute 41% of those working in the media and only 28% of those in management. In South Africa, there are an equal number of women and men employees, but women make up 38% of directors; 35% of senior management and only 25% of top management. These figures are some of the highest in the SADC region, but still fall short of a gender balance.

Although the degree of media freedom is far better than it was during apartheid, and this country has made strides in mainstreaming gender in the media, we need greater transformation before South Africa can truly celebrate media freedom and diversity. Moreover, when we reflect on the Protection of State Information Bill which government recently signed into law, as well as the influence corporates have on private media, we cannot deny that censorship is still a reality.

The media also continues to exclude the voices of many citizens, notably women; people with disabilities; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) and people from poor communities. These citizens are denied the right to be heard, rendering them invisible from our headlines and unable to participate and benefit from our democracy.

If the media helped defeat a racist regime and contributed to racial equality, it can help defeat patriarchy and drive gender equality. Until we break the glass ceiling, media freedom does not truly exist.

By Tarisai Nyamweda is the Media Programme Officer at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.



0 thoughts on “Southern Africa: Can we celebrate media freedom?”

Alemu Mammo says:

The progress that has been in South Africa media gender participation is encouraging. Those who work in media are in a better position to influence the system to narrow the gender gap at the top-level management. They had dared to speak out against apartheid; they can certainly speak out against any in equality within their own institution, at the present. As South Africa continues to improve in this sector, it is hoped that other countries in the region work hard to catch up.

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