By: Lindokuhle Mnisi
The focus is on community media and various aspects attached to it. Before we can even look at its broader view, we need to understand what it is first. We will, therefore, answer the question of what community media is then dwell much on its counterparts including its role and importance in the South African communities. We will look at the impact on citizens, the watchdogs function, reporting of national issues or events and all look at the future of the community media.
An overview of what we specifically mean by “community media” is that, these are the media platforms that are available and utilised in communities. For example, we talk about a community radio station and a community newspaper where most of the articles and reports/bulletins focus more on the community where these media is situated. On these media platforms, various issues are covered that the people relate to. These stories include reports on farming, agriculture, religious, entertainment, witchcraft and developments. The focus is on informing the public about their area. Some national stories are reported but not with more emphasis that the local news of that region.
Role and importance of community media
The community media has a mandate to fulfil. One example of what it needs to do is to report on the issues of the community. Its role is to tell the untold stories of and about the community and the people living in it. The aim is to reach the local people and keep the informed about certain things around them. Even on the licence agreement between either ICASA or the Press Ombudsman it is said and specified which people will be serve through this media, that is why in most cases, community media uses the dominant language in that community.
People of the community are more interested in what is happening around them. They want to know about the party or celebration that took place over the weekend, they want to know what is going to happen in their community in terms of development and improvement. People want to know about the entertainment sites and events around that community. They want to know where to go for leisure time on weekends.
People want to use the community media as a platform to speak to their leaders, especially the councillors and executive mayors. Business people around the community also want to use the media to advertise through the media so that their businesses can succeed. Community media should not forget about their responsibilities in the community. They should not begin to serve the national interest before serving the communities’ interest.
Community media – impact on citizens
Although we may all agree that community media plays a very significant role in the community but it also has an impact on the people it serves, the citizens. The impacts cannot be always good, at some point they are bad. These citizens are the ones who make the community media to be a success, through public participation. They are sources of all the stories that are reported. Some go to an extent of reporting themselves what has just happened around the corner, these people are then called “citizen journalists”. A researcher on “The role of community media” (he/she didn’t write his name on the internet) wrote that “Professional journalists are the core of a reputable media environment. However, they are by no means the only ones actively chronicling the world around them. New technology is giving an unprecedented opportunity to citizens to inform others.”
There are many ways in which community media impact on the citizen’s lives. In real fact and reality it might stimulate hatred and fights among the citizens of that particular community. It might also create a distance between the ordinary citizens and their leaders. These can happen especially if the citizens are not happy with the living conditions around them and they blame the councillor for not providing necessary services to the public. For example, the public will complain about the falling RDP houses and the fact that they were forcefully chased out of their homes because they stay at the informal settlement. They will go to an extent of saying in the media that they are going to burn the councillor’s house and burn tyres on the main road. The councillor will be listening on radio and will vacate on that night.
Community media - The watchdog function
A watchdog is defined as "a person or group of people that acts as protectors or guardians against inefficiency, illegal practices" (Collins English Dictionary.) In news journalism a watchdog journalist also fulfils this function of a guardian. The term watchdog is strongly related to the practice of investigative journalism. To perform in an investigative manner, the journalist is in the "role" of a watchdog. However, watchdog journalism cannot be defined by the amount of investigation alone but is used in many different contexts. Watchdog journalism can be located in a variety of news media, like radio, television, Internet and print media where it can be seen as "a unique strength of newspapers" and additional new media and concepts like weblogs and citizen journalism. Watchdog journalists are also called "watchmen", "agents of social control" or "moral guardians". – Wikipedia.
Watchdogs play a vital role in the accumulation of the top secrets and those that are regarded as classified information. They investigate deeply on the issues that impact on the citizens and the community at large. They tell the untold stories, especially the sensitive stories. Their lives are always in jeopardy because they are mostly hated by the people who are exposed to the public. Watchdogs unearth the corruption within the municipal management and councillors and expose them to the public which then create a tension between them and the leaders of that community. Most leaders of this nation, including the national level, hate watchdogs with their whole hearts. The current ruling party, African National Congress, went to an extent of introducing a BILL (protection of state information bill) which aims to sanction all the whistleblowers and watchdogs of this nation. The BILL, which poses a threat to journalists, proposed a jail sentence for everybody who will be found in possession of classified information. That sanction also applies to watchdogs.
Community media – reporting of national issues/events
In most cases and instances, reporting on national issues and events is avoided. Unless the national politician has visited the community, then more emphasis will be put on that particular report. But as specified above, community media are there to speak the language of the community and address the issues of the community. Of course there are stories that can be national but localised because the readers/citizens relate to them but local content is the prioritised one. For example, a person from a particular community can be making national headlines on national newspapers and the community newspaper of where he comes from would also like to interview him and run the story. Another example can be if the councillor gets a top job in the national government, it would be a big story for both national and community media.
Looking at the size of community newspapers, they are very small with at least eight (tabloid) pages compared to national newspapers which consist of more than 30 pages (tabloids and some broadsheet). In those eight pages, local stories need to be dominating. National events can only be covered if there is a specific significance and need to do so. Such a report must have a particular impact on the citizens of that community. If state president Jacob Zuma was to visit Dundonald (village in Mpumalanga), obviously that would be the biggest story for all community media in that place (if there was any media in the village).
Community media – the future of community media
History has revealed that most of the national newspapers of today started as community newspapers in the past. Some were newsletters and some were government gazettes. The growth and improvement of many communities had an impact of the community newspapers as many of them decided to go nationally, and grew into bigger and developed mega newspapers. In that process, other community newspapers have disappeared while others were swallowed by big companies which became national media companies. Some of the reasons for these were national and public interest. The editors saw it necessary for them to serve the nation than the communities. Business is also the reasons why they upgraded to national servicing.
Community media are dying slowly but surely if not dissolving. Sponsorship is a problem as many newspapers need them. The only thing that can save the community media are advertisements from local business and companies. Most community media are not for sale and some are very cheap, so they depend on sponsors to sustain. An abstract from the internet was quoted as saying “Community participation and access are the major tenets that characterise and upon which community media are credited. Other tenets include issues of ownership, control and funding which are rooted in the hands of community members and they empower them to have control over the communication systems. They also empower marginalised communities to define and manage their own development. As such community media are driven by democratic principles which are socially oriented and not profit driven”
In this research we looked at all the issues that affects or impacts on community media. We looked at the ownership and sponsorship of newspapers and how they can survive for more years. Other issues that were tackled include the community media’s impact on citizens and the role of watchdogs. Reportage of national stories was also one of the issues tackled.