Compiled Indhrannie Pillay
A two-day National Community Radio Conference was held at the Elangeni Conference and Hotel Center in Durban in March this year. The conference hosted by the Department of Communications aimed to review the progress made by community radio since its introduction in South Africa 12 years ago.
The theme for the conference was "Community Radio Sustenance in the era of Convergence". The new policy environment that has been brought about by the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) last year was under review. The policy seeks to promote convergence of services in telecommunications and broadcast markets. Dr Mashilo Boloka, Director of the Broadcasting Policy presented the discussion document on the 12-year summary of the radio sector and the expectations of the new legislative environment presented by the ECA. “This conference was held to review the current status of community radio in South Africa, the progress it has made over the years and the challenges that it still faces,” Boloka said.
“Skills retention in the industry is a major hurdle. Government and private funders invest a lot of money in training people for community radio and after a few months they leave the stations.” Boloka said that skills retention strategies needed to be addressed so community radio is not caught in the cycle of merely training people.
Government's support to the community radio sector and measures that needed to be put into place to sustain the sector was also reviewed. “Government plays a major role in the development of community radio. Currently, the government provides infrastructure to 90% of the community radio stations in the country,” Boloka added.
Funding and sustainability, digital migration, audience measurements and advertising were among the other issues discussed. Speakers at the conference included representatives from government, the regulator, advertising, sector organisations and signal distributor. The keynote speaker was Dr Harold Wesso, Deputy Director General of the Policy Branch. His address focused on community radio sustenance in the era of convergence.
The expectations of the conference was that it develop a long-term support strategy which would significantly enhance the areas of governance and policy, management and administration, operations and programming and the funding model that will realistically address the needs of the community radio sector. “Community radio plays an important role in informing communities. The national broadcaster can only focus on stories of national interest however, community radio can focus on issues which are pertinent to that particular community. It plays a vital role in bringing media access to people at the grass roots level,” Boloka said.