X Marks The Spot

We are a unique bunch of sun kissed individuals that form the layers of what Desmond Tutu described as, the “rainbow nation.” I’m not sure there are enough colours in a rainbow to accurately describe the people palette of South Africa, but we live up to our nation’s motto, unity in diversity. We have much to celebrate as South Africans and the essence of our ability to gather as one is underpinned by our democracy. As we go to the polls next week, we also honour thirty years of the democratic process.

The media in South Africa has flourished in democracy and is explicitly protected in the Bill of Rights under the freedom of expression, which speaks to free press, media, creativity, sharing ideas as well as academic and scientific research. In democracy, media has a crucial role to play in holding power to account but also educating, informing, and entertaining the public

Broadening Media Horizons

Democracy has seen a growth in media and consumption options. We’ve come a long way since Radio Bantu, the English Service, and the test pattern on TV.  The daily 7pm news bulletin has evolved into multi-channel news broadcasts with remote crossings, independent journalism, citizen driven content and channels that have global reach and local appeal. The plurality of media was fostered by the restructuring of the SABC into a public broadcaster, the licensing of new private television and radio networks and a less draconian approach to content in the public space.

In the relatively short history of free media in South Africa we’ve gone from having movies banned because they showed too many buttons being undone,  to having adult content magazines and the now (in)famous ETV Saturday night offering of the 2000’s. The internet has eclipsed all traditional mediums in the adult entertainment space and this progression of over-regulation (and arrestable offences), to self-choice and personal decision is a good example of the democratisation of media.

Diverse Options

The broadening of the media landscape has created more opportunity to conceptualise and create. From the addition of M-Net as a paid for TV service and its development into the broader Multichoice offering, to Netflix, ShowMax, Disney+ and other subscription-based services, more options create more opportunities, not only for creators but for audiences and advertisers too! TV is only one example of this. In the audio space linear radio has been complimented with digital options, podcasts and music streaming, Social media, subscription websites, blog posts and direct messaging; digital options. Posters, screens, billboards; outdoor media. In many ways, the diverse media choices and offerings represent the diverse make-up of local audiences

Free choice

Free choice is driven by targeted audiences being front and centre in the content creation space. Consumers vote with their ears and eyeballs, and creators are aware that appealing content attracts audiences. Audiences attract advertisers and they build loyalty to certain shows and creators. When audiences change the channel, they change their loyalty, and this creates a more robust free market dynamic. Tried and trusted platforms are often put under pressure by new options. In the mid 2000’s Facebook was the NKOTB, today it would battle to be the official opposition to TikTok.

Fight for your Right!

The media ecosystem requires checks and balances to ensure that freedom of
expression thrives. We need to promote industry-based regulation and ensure diversity in ownership. Shrinking teams and the loss of senior staff have a profound impact on our ability to remain resilient in difficult situations and when the media is scrutinised or attacked for nefarious reasons. For continued success we must mentor and offer opportunity to young passionate practitioners and engage those with experience.

In celebrating democracy, we celebrate marketing, advertising, media, and the creative economy. As media practitioners’ part of our impact and responsibility, in a democratic society, is helping people make considered decisions using our content, platforms, and insight.

As we contemplate our options at the polls next week, let us celebrate the
opportunity to make a mark and help others to do the same!

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