Community radio station licensing and support: MDDA briefing

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

02 November 2016
Chairperson: Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape)
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Meeting Summary

The Media Diversity and Development Agent (MDDA) briefed the Select Committee on Communications and Public Enterprises on the licensing and support it gives to radio stations across the provinces. It was entrusted with ensuring that there was media diversification in South Africa and that those who had previously been excluded were part of the mainstream media. It had to ensure that it was made easy for previously disadvantaged and excluded people to have access to information. It was with such a responsibility that the MDDA looked after community broadcasting and community printing, as they were equally important.

The number of community radio stations and broadcast projects funded by the MDDA per province was Free State eight, Eastern Cape 18, Gauteng 16, Limpopo 20, North West Province 13, Northern Cape five and the Western Cape 12. It gave its main consideration to projects in and around the rural areas.

The strategic partners and stakeholders, which were the key industry bodies in implementing the MDDA mandate, included the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF), the Association of Community Television of South Africa (ACTSA), the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), where support was provided in terms of empowerment, capacity building, lobbying and advocacy. The MDDA liaised with the regulatory body, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), on issues regarding community broadcasting.

Members asked whether the Agency provided an incentive to the most rural communities to participate in the media fraternity, and what kind of financial support was offered. What sort of training was provided to ensure capacity building and sustainability? How could the MDDA get municipalities involved in community radio projects? Was the Agency aware that there were suggestions that certain community print media and radio stations being supported based on the political message that they sent out? What monitoring controls were in place to prevent recurring irregular, wasteful and fruitless expenditure? Why were there so many vacancies in the organisation? Was government funding sufficient to enable the MDDA to fulfill its mandate as a development agency?

Meeting report

Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA): Briefing

Ms Phelisa Nkomo, Chairperson: Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) and Ms Thembelihle Sibeko, Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), MDDA undertook the briefing jointly.

The MDDA was entrusted in ensuring that there was media diversification in South Africa, ensuring that those who had been previously excluded were part of the mainstream, and making it easy for previously disadvantaged and excluded people to have access to information. It was with such a responsibility that the MDDA looked after community broadcasting and community printing, as they were equally important.

In terms of its mandate, the MDDA had the responsibility of ensuring that it encouraged ownership and control of media by the previously disadvantaged, that there was an inclusion of languages that would previously have been excluded, and that it encouraged the channeling of resources into community media and small commercial media sectors. The essence was therefore how the MDDA allocated resources to ensure that there was balance between print and community broadcasting.

The distinction between what the MDDA represents and what the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) represents was an important one. There had been a misunderstanding about what the MDDA represents, and what its role was in respect of the sector. It derived its mandate from Section 2 of the Media Diversity Agency Act of 2002, which stipulates that the nature of support provided by the Agency to community broadcast projects may be in the form of financial support or training opportunities and capacity development in all areas of media. The MDDA had responded to that space and had focused on the research aspect of it, whereas ICASA was mandated under the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Act, which gives ICASA the power to amend, grant, renew, transfer and revoke licences.

The number of community radio stations and broadcast projects funded by the MDDA per province was Free State eight, Eastern Cape 18,Gauteng 16, Limpopo 20, North West Province 13, Northern Cape five and the Western Cape 12. The numbers were not equal, but they had been generated from the situational analysis conducted by the MDDA. It also worked in a reactive approach, where it would receive applications from different provinces, and the determining factors when making a consideration for funding would be how much the MDDA had to fund, what the needs were, as well as the compliance aspect. The MDDA gave bigger consideration to projects in and around the rural areas, and it had a footprint in all nine provinces.

The strategic partners and stakeholders, which were the key industry bodies in implementing the MDDA mandate, included the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF), to which the MDDA had provided support on the national policy conference, and the Association of Community Television of South Africa (ACTSA), the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), where support was provided in terms of empowerment, capacity building, lobbying and advocacy.
The MDDA liaises with the regulatory body, ICASA, on issues regarding community broadcasting.

Sentech and the MDDA were in the process of entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which would respond to the issue of signal distribution and establish how the community media space could be secured effectively.

Because the MDDA could not respond to all the capacity needs on its own, and to ensure that cost needs were met, it had opted into entering in a partnership with Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) such as the Media Information and Communications Technologies (MICT) SETA and the Fiber Processing and Manufacturing (FP&M) SETA.

Other partnerships entered into include a partnership with the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and Soul City for the training of community leaders. The MDDA also worked closely with accredited institutions of higher learning on accreditation and quality training. It worked with the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ) on the accreditation of quality training, and with the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA).  The MDDA had an MOU and had started a pilot project in Limpopo, where small commercial media and community radio stations were trained on science reporting, indigenous languages and science education.

Over the past financial year in terms of the overview of research, training and development, the MDDA had provided support to the media literacy summit, where the MDDA was in partnership with the Department of Education in the Northern Cape. The objectives of the media literacy summit was to ensure that the MDDA responded to its mandate in light of the fact that it was providing training to the youth in the media development space, and the outcome of this summit was an identification of further training for the beneficiaries, to ensure that when they went back to their respective areas it did not just become a summit that ended as a talk show. The MDDA had also supported the World Press Freedom Day through a partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to ensure that it was responding to the issues of citizenry and participating in international events.

The MDDA had also supported media literacy exchange programmes. Again, the focus was to ensure interventions and ensure that the youth participated in community media.. There was a partnership with the Advanced Radio Academy, where beneficiaries from different provinces were identified at schools and trained in journalism and broadcasting. This was done through the Wits Radio Academy. As a follow up to this project, the MDDA had supported the Station Advisory and Monitoring, which was the other leg of the certificate programme. The objective was to ensure that once learners had completed these programmes, there was a follow up and a constant monitoring programme, which was to engage and identify opportunities for the trainees.

The MDDA also convened grantee orientation workshops. Over the past years, it had identified that a relationship with the supported broadcasting and print media projects, in both the small commercial and community media space, was needed, because upon entering into the agreement which governed the relationship with the beneficiaries, the MDDA had identified that there had been issues of non-compliance in some instances, and governance challenges in others. Therefore, it had become clear that before making funding available, engagement with beneficiaries in a programme where they could be trained on basic financial management responsibilities, was needed to ensure that there was effective implementation of the grant approved by the MDDA. It ensures capacitation support to grantees in compliance issues. This programme also invites statutory bodies, including the SA Revenue Service (SARS) to participate, because there had been an identification of non-compliance with SARS’ conditions. ICASA had also been invited, to ensure that there was constant communication and understanding by the beneficiaries in terms of what was expected of them, and how to ensure that they complied.

As indicated earlier, there is a partnership with SAASTA, which supports science journalism and ensures that information is generated in indigenous languages, and assists in terms of content development. Support has been given to the Uhuru online training, which trains women in participating in online journalism. Research on the sustainability of the community radio centre was supported. A partnership was entered into with the Community Radio Forum, which is one of the key industry bodies, and the objective was to identify the issues of sustainability

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters had been supported in both 2015 and 2016. The National Capacity Building and Policy Conference had also received support.

At the previous presentation and meeting, the MDDA had been asked to provide the overall breakdown in terms of print and media projects it supported. The MDDA had a national footprint in relation to print and media projects. In the Northern Cape there were two, in the Free State six, nine in Mpumalanga, i4 in the Western Cape, 11 each in Kwazulu-Natal, North West and Limpopo, and 10 in Gauteng 10. This showed the national footprint the MDDA has.

The demographics of print ownership and small commercial projects was also covered. In relation to the breakdown of ownership in terms of youth, the MDDA had supported six. Regarding gender diversity, 22 females and 58 males had been supported. It had supported about two people with disabilities.
It had provided support to 33 print projects in urban areas, 13 in semi-urban areas and 32 in rural areas. Key to this was that the MDDA ensured that there was a concentration in the previously disadvantaged areas, and the issues of indigenous languages were alleviated.

Community TV had also received support in four provinces, through Tshwane TV, Soweto TV, Cape TV and One KZN. The challenges here were that MDDA was unable to respond effectively on its own with the monitoring values required to remain sustainable.

Discussion

Mr O Sefako (ANC, North West) acknowledged the importance of the role the MDDA plays, but commented that he was not sure whether the presentation was meant for the Select Committee or whether it was a cut and paste presentation from the Portfolio Committee, because it appears from the cover of the presentation that it was for the Portfolio Committee. He asked whether the MDDA provides an incentive to the most rural communities to participate in the media fraternity. Did the financial support offered depend on compliance? What came first -- did the MDDA create a climate where communities could be capacitated so that they could access these funds by complying?


Ms Z Ncitha (ANC, Eastern Cape) said that as much as the Select Committee was interested in knowing about the transformation that took place within the MDDA, it would also like to know what the challenges were in the provinces represented by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). Although it was happy to hear about the positive things happening, it needed to know about the bad things too. She gave an example of a recent visit by the Committee to a project in the Richards Bay area, where a number of challenges were raised, including student interns not receiving a stipend.  She asked if any changes had been made since visit. Did the MDDA offer training, or make funds available for training, to ensure sustainability, or to ensure capacity building? Lastly, what were the MDDA’s thoughts around the issue of these projects being non-profit organizations (NPOs) and being used by the municipalities, but without remuneration?

Mr J Julius (DA, Gauteng) pointed out that the presentation lacked some aspects. The Auditor General’s report had highlighted the challenges faced by the MDDA, and the MDDA needed to elaborate on these challenges in its presentation to the Select Committee. The purpose of the Committee was to assist if there were challenges related to capacity and make recommendations to the Portfolio Committee on such challenges. He asked how many community radio stations had received funding in relation to the number which had applied. In terms of the diversity factor and ownership, how many women owned radio stations and how many women had applied for funding and received it? What was the value of government communications in local and print media? Lastly, in relation to print media and the MDDA’s intention to grow smaller print media houses, what support were applicants receiving and were they surviving?

Mr Julius also referred to conversations suggesting that certain community print media and radio stations were being supported, based on the political message that they sent. He gave an example of a radio station in Gauteng, Kofifi FM, which was not supported, and wanted to know why. He pointed out that there had been a radio station where a presenter had congratulated another political party and had been fired on the spot. Because of this, a topic being discussed was that community radio stations had been used as a political tool before and during the elections. He asked the MDDA to elaborate on whether there was a problem and how big it was, and what the MDDA was doing about it.

Ms C Labuschange (DA, Western Cape) agreed with Mr Julius on the findings of the Auditor General’s report on the financials, and added that the report had also highlighted many issues regarding compliance as well. It had stated that the MDDA had an unqualified report, but the findings were problematic. Based on this, she asked whether the findings of irregular, wasteful and fruitless expenditure were recurring, and what monitoring controls were in place. How many community radio stations had applied and could not be helped? Could details regarding the funding model used by the MDDA be given, and what was the difference between a partner and stakeholder in the MDDA’s funding model? What were the criteria or requirements that applicants had to meet in relation to the stakeholders and partners? If an applicant was not part of the National Community Radio Forum, did this effect their application? What were the criteria or model used when the MDDA decided to stop supporting an applicant?

The Chairperson asked whether, as a development agency, the MDDA would say that the funding given by government was enough to fulfill its mandate, or did it need more to be able to do more. How did it monitor the progress made by radio stations, especially in terms of sustainability? In relation to the findings of irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, did the MDDA have a proper supply chain management system in place? What was the problem that resulted in such findings, and what were the challenges? Why did the MDDA use so many consultants and not fill vacancies?

MDDA response

Ms Nkomo responded by first apologising for the presentation, as they had understood the terms of reference to be for broadcasting only, and in preparing the presentation, print media was not included. However, the information was available and would be shared with Committee.

She then addressed the questions related to the strategic issues. The first related to the issue of adjudication and funding. The MDDA was a development and diversity agency, and its approach when adjudicating on applications and deciding who to fund was entrenched within those two critical concepts. From a developmental aspect, its focus was on rural communities, particularly because the content for rural communities was not likely to be found in the mainstream media. The MDDA also prioritises the diversification perspective, such as the issues of working class people, including women and youth. It had the challenge of considering people with disabilities, and from a racial perspective, Africans were prioritized as well. In addition, the MDDA was trying to refine its data. Out of the 27 broadcast projects identified in the new financial year, 13 were new ones. In the 27 broadcasters approved and in terms of leadership, 23 were male-dominated and four were led by females. In the community radio stations,12 were led by young people.

The adjudication criteria were mainly based on section 3 of the MDDA Act, which formed the objectives of the Agency, so when it made presentations to the board for adjudication, it had to specify if it was  recommending funding, and which objectives of the Act the recommendation was drawn from. All projects approved by the board were approved, based upon the motivation from the MDDA act. Also, when adjudicating a project, the MDDA looked at which projects were within a 100km radius, and considered the composition of the population. If there was a project that would like to set up in an existing space, the MDDA looked at what collaboration opportunities were out there, and gave funding to achieve that.

In terms of the MDDA’s model, management presented applicant projects to the board and the board would take it from a developmental standpoint. An example of this would be when a project came to the MDDA requesting R500 000. In the assessment at board level, the board could pick up that the applicant would actually require additional capacity. It would then look at the socio-economic dynamics associated with the community from which the project came, before deciding to award the requested amount.

The MDDA was reactive instead of proactive, because it had increased the amount of oversight done. It does the same oversight as that done by the Select Committee. This gives the MDDA a better understanding of the nuances of the socio-economic dynamics of that community. Funds and resources allocated were linked to that, because the MDDA understands that the sustainability of the sector is linked to the socio-economic landscape. For example, if a community had minimum economic activity, which meant that projects in those communities would not be sustainable. Among these factors was advertising -- if there were minimal economic activities, where were the advertisements going to come from? The board had been quite active in the last few months with oversight. This helped with providing support for capacity building and content management, and resulted in an improved funding model.

The role of municipalities presented a challenge, and the MDDA would like to call on the Select Committee to support it to encourage municipalities to actually use the projects, and to make sure that they used the broadcasting infrastructure available so that these stations could sustain themselves. There was an upcoming conference of the SA Local Government Association (SALGA) where the MDDA had requested a slot to build a case for the social value of the community platform.

Ms Nkomo turned to the issue of sector challenges. The community media sector was a breeding ground for many young people with a matric qualification, but no post-matric qualifications. This made the MDDA an entry point for young people who had left school. It was unable able to make a contribution towards young people in communities a part of the MDDA’s capacity building because there was a lot of mobility, especially when people had picked up the minimal skills which allowed them to participate in the formal market, and they leave. Once the MDDA had invested in the minimal skills, it meant that people could leave and participate in the labour market. This meant the issue of capacity building was mainly an issue of focus and support.

When it came to self sufficiency versus dependency, the problem was that the socio-economic dynamics were linked in many ways to sustainability. There was a dualistic nature to this sector’s response -- there was the sustainability factor driven by economics, and then there was the social aspect, which meant that the content to be prepared must always demonstrate social consciousness. It was achieving a balance between the two that was often the struggle.

The MDDA had been around since 2004, and was currently undertaking a social impact study which should be ready by the end of the current financial year. It was a scientific study which was intended to give more insight into how communities had changed from the old definition to what South Africa was today. For example, if one went to Diepsloot, they have a Portuguese community. This could mean that in the next round of applications received, people could ask for coverage in Portuguese. This study should inform the MDDA on how to position itself institutionally, but would also show how the sector had evolved in the last 22 years, and how the MDDA should respond to that.

Her last point dealt with institutional challenges, such as capacity. The MDDA had a high vacancy rate and there was a time where there had been a high turnover of staff. The reason for the delay in filling positions was that the MDDA recognised that it needed to reposition itself without deviating from the mandate. This included repositioning how it fulfilled its responsibilities and referred to the “hand-holding” of projects -- what the MDDA would do to assist when applicants did not comply. If it followed a conservative approach, many projects would not qualify, but the current approach was a developmental one which assisted many projects in qualifying. Once the MDDA picks up that there are gaps that minimise the opportunity to receive funding, the hand-holding approach kicks in and the MDDA assists with addressing the issues, which vary from compliance to a need for support.

The MDDA also recognised that media transformation needed a bottom-up approach. This approach ensured that community issues, race and gender issues were well reflected in the content of the media and reflected the demographics of the community. The MDDA also recognised that gender diversity was needed, as the industry was highly male dominated. This was a point that would be made in the 2016/17 presentation in terms of focusing on women’s issues being part of the conversation and funding specific seminars.

Guateng had not received a great focus from the MDDA, as it had a high media constitution. It already had 50 community stations amongst other stations, and they were leaders in web streaming and using the digital platform too. As mentioned before, the MDDA’s focus was more on the rural areas. This was not to say that the MDDA was not funding Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. The focus had just been to ensure that rural issues were covered in the media.

Ms Sibeko addressed the question on how projects were supported by the MDDA, and whether it was through funding or just non- financial support, and what the non- compliance issues were. She said that the MDDA provide support to projects through both finance and capacity building, and often it depended on the application before the MDDA. It did an assessment of applications received and as its management staff did not have a mandate to approve or decline projects, all projects supported were done so at the board level. Key to the assessment phase, when reviewing an application with gaps that may result in disqualification, the MDDA would not outright reject it, but would provide support to improve the application. The MDDA staff members would interact with the applicant by advising and assisting them to enable a successful application. In terms of compliance, the MDDA would look at whether it was something it could assist with, or if it was a regulatory or statutory obligation over which it may not have control. If it was an issue of non- compliance with the Tax Act, the MDDA ensured that it engaged with SARS on behalf of the applicant.

On the question relating to sharing the MDDA’s challenges, its chairperson (Ms Nkomo) had provided the overall explanation but it was important to indicate that internally, the MDDA had experienced challenges over the past financial year. The first was that it did not have a board for a period of two terms, meaning that the board could not approve or reject any applications, funds could not be disbursed, and the MDDA could not continue with appointments and filling of vacancies. Subsequent to that, once the board was quorated, the MMDA had engaged in a review of the organogram, so it had had to hold off on the filling of vacancies during that period because there was not sufficient budget to ensure that there would be a big enough staff complement. This was purely because all of the funds received came with a restriction that only 25% could be spent on operational costs, and with the withdrawal of the print media fund space, it affected the organisation.

The MDDA had since reviewed its relationship with its key funders, which included Multichoice. Externally, in terms of the beneficiaries, the main challenges had been identified, such as governance, a sense of dependency, and sustainability. When looking at the community stations, participation varied from one project to another.

The training provided depended on the form of training required. For example, for the grantee orientation, the MDDA provided training in basic financial management, in compliance reporting, and in the standards of reporting and accountability. This training was done by the MDDA’s internal staff and was an on going process. However, sales and marketing training was outsourced, and the Agency ensures ongoing training and constant monitoring in terms of the impact.

The challenges which contributed to the Auditor General’s findings on irregular and wasteful expenditure to that finding were that MDDA was understaffed and did not have adequate supply chain personnel. This had since been addressed -- it had appointed two officers in this area to ensure that the MDDA addresses the findings and did not have the same findings in future. The findings had shown that there was no financial mismanagement or theft.

Ms Sibeko explained the factors leading to supporting a project more than once. The MDDA’s funding was determined by a funding analysis, and no cross-cutting amount was equal for all the projects, but the guide was determined by the assessment process. At times, the MDDA had a minimal budget and had to give less than requested. At other times, a project had to be funded more than once. The sector on its own was generally not self sustainable financially, and this was because they operated as NPOs. However, the MDDA was trying to assist by ensuring that there was a business model. The operation as NPOs was the reason why the MDDA had developed a relationship with SEDA. The MDDA was looking at ways to turn them around, as they were defined as social enterprises. This could benefit them in achieving sustainability, as grants were given to small businesses for marketing and advertising.

The question around how many radio stations there were was broad, however through ICASA there were over 220 licenses moratorium. The MDDA had supported over 80% of those, meaning that from the approved licenses the MDDA might have those that had not requested any support from the MDDA. Regarding the advertising, yes there were challenges with regards to the advertising space and there was engagement with different stakeholders to ensure that the community leader sector receives support but most importantly the MDDA would appreciate from this Committee’s assistance in intervening around the issue of the lack of regulations to enforce the municipalities to use the community projects.

Regarding the issue of political interventions in the activities of radio stations, the MDDA was guided by the Act, which was very explicit about its roles and responsibilities, and it did not have the power to interfere with the project content. The MDDA was not in a position to answer the question about how many stations had applied and been helped. However, this information would be made available at a later stage.

The difference between a stakeholder and partner in terms of the MDDA model, was that the stakeholder might include the Agency’s funders, and the partner might include a joint partnership for a specific purpose.

In terms of the criteria for support, every project was treated equally and did not have to be an affiliate of any statutory organisation to be supported.

In terms of project sustainability, the MDDA had identified that there were projects doing well and others not so well and needing more support. That was why it did not give once-off funding. Sustainability in the community media space was close to being unachievable on the basis that one viewed sustainability not only from a funding perspective, but also from community participation. If a need for sustainability funding was identified within a project, the MDDA offered support.

The funding received by the MDDA from government was not sufficient. Since it had come into being, it had received R30 million and the only increase had been based on inflation, so with digital migration and transformation, to remain meaningful within the sector there was a big need for an increased budget.

The MDDA conducted desktop monitoring and through site visits, but also immediately after a project responded in terms of their financial management, there was a validation process which was part of the monitoring, and that helped to identify whether it needed to intervene or not.

The use of consultants was due to the fact that there were so many unfilled vacancies. It had also assisted during the audit period and had resulted in the MDDA achieving an unqualified audit. The rate of vacancy filling currently sat at 72 %.

The MDDA had met with the North Coast radio station and resolved all the issues relating to compliance. It was in the process of requesting a renewal of the contract, which had to be signed internally, and it would then go to the applicant for signing. The board Chairperson would give the final endorsement.

Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their presentation and responses to the questions and stated that they would monitor all programmes of the MDDA related to what had been presented.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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