The South African print media is dominated by four big companies that control over 80% of all newspapers and magazines (with Media24/Naspers controlling 40% alone). When so few people have control over press freedom – and they share the same social and economic interests – our ‘freedom’ and ‘national debate’ becomes an elite privilege that cannot fulfil the vital role of a free media within our democracy.
These media companies undermine our democracy through the marginalisation of the languages spoken by most people and by retrenching staff to cut their costs, leaving a handful of overworked journalists trying to do the job of many.
Community and small independent newspapers cannot grow, because the dominant corporations either buy them up or engage in corporate bullying that puts local independent media out of business.
We want a media transformation that goes beyond changing the race and gender of the people sitting on the boards and staffing the companies. We demand greater media diversity including limits on the size of the dominant companies and public investment in public and community media. Transformation must ensure that the media reflect society (especially the majority working-class and poor) at the levels of ownership, staff and product.
Many democracies around the world have passed laws to limit the size of media companies. These laws are not understood as an attack on media freedom, but rather a democratic effort to protect the media from corporate control.
If we are going to mobilise successfully to defend and advance our freedom of expression we must transform the media to meet the communication needs of the majority of South Africans.