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Beyond broadcasting: the future of state-owned broadcasters in Southern Africa
Grahamstown (ZA)
65 p.
abbrev. p.65
"Digital communications technology does many new things. Its spread means that it is no longer a case of a tiny minority of professionals and politicians having a monopoly on mass communication. Implicit in the observations of this report, is the recognition that - amongst other things - digitisation also disrupts old boundaries between inter-personal and mass communication. What used to be the subject of, or product of, communication between a few individuals, can increasingly be put into the public sphere. Much of this content remains personal in quality, despite it being public in availability. But there is also much that is of public interest. In some ways, this therefore threatens those institutions supposed to be specialising in public interest information. In other ways, it can help them not only reinforce this mission, but to also take a step towards expanding their role into becoming wider public interest content and commun-ications agencies. They can, in short, be the motive force that pulls personal conversations into focussing on journalism that is of common public interest. That image of leading the transformation of mass communication is, however, just one of the scenarios outlined in this report. The others point to lesser roles, even including extinction. It should be noted that scenarios are not predictions of the future, but attempts to highlight a range of possible options. They help guide action in one or other direction. The complication is that digitisation and all that comes with it can deal a surprise to even the best-considered scenario possibilities. Who would have thought that a search engine company (Google) could become such an effective player in the advertising arena? Or that newspaper newsrooms would start hiring video-capable staffers, or that some cell-phone companies would move into distributing content? Could anyone have guessed that a company like Twitter could attract and burn millions of dollars of investment without even a proper business plan about how it intends to make money? The digital revolution, if it is to succeed, needs to have top quality cadres in the newsrooms. In the face of these kinds of developments, it is tempting to throw up one′s hands and take a come-what-may approach. That′s preferable to the illusion of controlling and managing the process. At the same time, between these two extremes of paralysis and over-planning, there is a broad direction that can be identified and pursued. We may not know exactly where we are going, but - as this Report seeks to do - we can look at where we are and what′s immediately ahead. More fundamentally, however, there′s worth in remembering from whence we come. In other words, while looking at the present and near-present, and keeping an eye on what future scenarios we can imagine, we can hold onto our values. In the context of public broadcasting, these values are - in a nutshell - to focus mass communications on deepening democracy and development. These public interest values remain all the more valid in a time when the historical informational ″service″ model is being expanded to also function as a public interest communicational mode. Keeping these ideals aloft helps state-owned broadcasters steer a course between delivering government-interest and commercial-interest content. They help to define the meaning of universal access in the face of financial pressures and socio-economic divides. They empower people to see the big picture and to bring concerted action to bear on it. In sum, they help us reinvent ″public service broadcasting″ in a fashion appropriate to its contemporary possibilities. Roll on digitisation in Southern Africa - and the transformation of at least some state-owned broadcasters to become leaders in this process." ("Summing up", p. 53-54)

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