Challenges faced by community radio stations & interventions to resolve these: MDDA briefing; with Deputy Minister

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

12 February 2020
Chairperson: Mr T Matibe (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

The Select Committee met with the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) to discuss the challenges facing the community broadcasting sector. The MDDA team was accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises, who briefly outlined the Agency’s role and some of its sustainability challenges. The MDDA was a statutory development agency that was established in 2003 to promote and ensure media development and diversity. It was a partnership between the South African Government and major print and broadcasting companies, such as Multichoice and News24, to assist mainly in developing community and small commercial media in South Africa

In the 16 years of MDDA’s funding of projects, it had funded broadcasting, print and social programme production, research development, training and development programmes, that had amounted to a total expenditure of almost R500 million. Despite this, the Agency continued to face challenges. These were attributed to high operating costs; challenges with generating revenue; poor governance of community media projects and a lack of financial management skills at community broadcasters; difficulty in generating content; problems with filling critical vacant posts; and adapting to technological advancement. These issues made it challenging for the MDDA to achieve its mandate in a sustainable manner, so some community level media broadcasters had either gone off air, or were facing financial difficulties to stay on air.

Of the many broadcasters that had been funded or supported by the MDDA across the country, Mamelodi Community Radio Station and Zibonele FM were self-providing radio stations. Only four community television stations -- Tshwane TV, Soweto TV, a community television channel in KwaZulu-Natal and another in the Free State -- received funding from the MDDA, while many other community stations were not funded because of failing to meet the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) regulations.

Most of the financial difficulties faced by community level media broadcasters were due to strict requirements for licensing with ICASA, expensive service fees from signal distributor Sentech, and tax obligations. Other challenges were attributed to an unwillingness of businesses to advertise on community broadcasting platforms. The Deputy Minister indicated she was lobbying National Treasury to enforce a 30% advertising quota on community radio platforms.

In order to respond to its financial challenges, the MDDA planned to develop a new funding model. This would include efforts to approach network service providers to offer discounted rates on data and other services, tapping into foreign direct investments, building and maintaining relationships with universities that provide research support, and using advertising to generate income.

Meeting report

Ms Thembi Siweya, Deputy Minister in the Presidency, briefly outlined what the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) was, and some of its challenges. She said the MDDA was founded in 2003, and assisted the radio, print and television media sector by filling the gaps that typical media agencies could not fill at the community broadcasting level. Some of the issues related to the MDDA’s inability to fund community broadcasting agencies because they were not registered with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). There were only four community television stations -- Tshwane TV, Soweto TV, a community television channel in Kwa-Zulu Natal and another in the Free State -- that receive funding from MDDA, while many other community stations were not funded. She attributed this to the strict rules and fees that were attached to ICASA licensing.

Regarding the internal challenges of the MDDA, the agency currently had four board members, and in instances when one board member could not make it to a meeting, no quorum was formed. The MDDA was working on filling critical vacancies at agency.

Although the MDDA received funding from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and Multichoice, the funding remained insufficient to fulfil the needs of its projects and programmes. To supplement this funding, the MDDA had approached Media24, which had offered MDDA to pay cost price on services needed, and had offered training programmes for amateur journalists.

Ms Zukiswa Potye, Chief Executive Officer (CEO): MDDA said it was the first time that the MDDA had been invited to present at the Sixth Parliament. She took Members through the mandate of the MDDA, its vision and mission and its strategic objectives.

The MDDA was a statutory development agency that had been established in 2003 to promote and ensure media development and diversity. It was a partnership between the South African government and major print and broadcasting companies to assist in, amongst others, developing community and small commercial media in South Africa.

The mandate of the MDDA was enshrined in the MDDA Act, and served to:

  • Create an enabling environment for media development and diversity which reflected the needs and aspirations of all South Africans;
  • Redress exclusion and marginalisation of disadvantaged communities and persons from access to the media and the media industry;
  • Providing support to community and small commercial media projects.

The MDDA was established to promote development and diversity in the South African media, consistent with the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Section 16 (1) of the Constitution Act 108 of 1996.

Ms Potye said that for the MDDA to achieve its mandate, it needed to do the following:

  • Grant funding;
  • Leveraging resources and support through technical assistance;
  • Conduct and fund research;
  • Facilitate capacity building; and
  • Advocate for media.

She also described the MDDA’s target audiences, which consisted of historically disadvantaged communities, historically diminished language and cultural groups, and inadequately served communities.

In the 16 years of MDDA’s funding projects, the agency had funded broadcasting, print and social programme production, research development, training and development programmes that had amounted to over R493 million.

Despite what seemed like a lot of funding, of the 156 radio stations that were funded by MDDA, only a handful were still running, with a few radio stations doing so independently. They would conduct research that would look into identifying issues with MDDA’s funding model, and the challenges faced by community broadcasters, particularly radio stations. One of the challenges faced by community radio stations was that some were not compliant with the minimum requirements for ICASA licensing. She also highlighted how this caused backlogs which could be resolved with the establishment of policies that could respond to these backlogs.

She took Members through the number of community radio stations or community broadcast projects that existed per province:

  • Limpopo 20
  • Mpumalanga 13
  • Kwa-Zulu Natal 18
  • Free State 8
  • North West 13
  • Northern Cape 5
  • Eastern Cape 18
  • Western Cape 11

The Gauteng number was not captured.

With regard to the geographic footprint of community television broadcasters, only four provinces – KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Gauteng and the Western Cape -- had community television broadcasters which were licensed, while Eastern Cape and Free State had broadcasters, but they were not licensed.

Ms Potye took the Committee through the sustainability challenges of the MDDA, which included:

High operating costs

Community broadcasters face challenges in meeting transmission costs

  • The MDDA was engaging with Sentech on transmission costs and a new business model to pay transmitter installation capital costs upfront; Sentech currently monopolises the community broadcasting sector, and rates were inflated as a result, despite Sentech claiming that their rates were discounted by 60%.
  • The MDDA would conduct a study into cost effective means of transmission, including:
    • Self transmission;
    • Transmission provided by other service providers; and
    • Online broadcasting.

Cost of premises

  • The MDDA would lobby for support from municipalities in addition to advertising, such as rental-free or low-rental premises.

Reliance on volunteers, leading to high turnover:

  • Ongoing capacity building.

Revenue Generation

Procurement of government and commercial advertising remained a major challenge due to inadequate national and local government advertisement in community media.

  • Procurement of government advertising must be legislated; and
  • There had to be MDDA advocacy and lobbying for increased adspend in community media.

Community media were not compliant with Central Supplier Database (CSD) requirements, ICASA regulations and MDDA funding requirements. This would require:

  • Increased capacity building and mentorship of community media in compliance;
  • Capacity building and mentoring on financial management, marketing and other skills; and
  • MDDA going on country-wide outreach programmes to assist non-compliant applicants with missing documentation and application processes.

Absence of reliable audience figures:

  • The MDDA was engaging in a study on cost-effective methods of gathering audience figures; and
  • It was engaging with the Broadcast Research Council and other stakeholders on audience figures.

Lack of marketing skills:

  • Increased capacity building and mentorship of community media in marketing skills; and
  • Study into the market potential of each area with community media; and mentors placed at stations for marketing and sales capability.

Overlapping of community radios in certain areas, resulting in stiff competition for limited advertising:

  • There were legacy issues, where the MDDA has engaged with ICASA on the issuing of broadcast licences -- for instance, to a community with five or more community radio stations.

Some areas were not sufficiently economically active to attract advertisers:

  • The MDDA would research and develop a community media sustainability model; and
  • This model would enable focused interventions to be provided to community media, depending on the potential to become self-sustaining.

Poor corporate governance/ financial management

Poor governance of community media projects and lack of financial management skills:

  • The MDDA was intensifying governance and financial management training to beneficiaries; and
  • It was forming partnerships with stakeholders such as the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to assist the sector with compliance issues.

Public servants and politically affiliated individuals were serving on the management and boards of radio stations, contrary to legislative regulations:

  • Capacity building of boards; and
  • The MDDA had to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) on training initiatives.

Content generation

The need for good quality content generation, dealing with community issues to advance socio-economic goals relating to access to information, media diversity, empowerment and youth development, remained a challenge:

  • The MDDA had intensified capacity-building initiatives for content generation and other special projects.

Rapidly changing technological environment

Changes in new technologies and the complex competitive environment required:

  • The MDDA allocating funds for digital equipment;
  • Increased capacity building and mentoring on new media as means of increasing reach; and
  • The MDDA lobbying the telecommunications sector to support community media in the transition to digital news dissemination.


Mr A Nyambi (ANC, Mpumalanga) welcome the inputs made in the presentation, but felt confused when Ms Potye had mentioned that the MDDA was presenting to the Select Committee for the first time. He recalled a meeting they had had with the MDDA in the previous year.

The Chairperson confirmed to Mr Nyambi (that the Select Committee had not met with the MDDA, but with ICASA.

Mr Nyambi proceeded to congratulate Ms Potye on her permanent appointment as the CEO of the MDDA. The MDDA needed to fill vacant positions in key posts to ensure that the organisation runs and functions well. He referred to issues that were raised about Soweto TV in previous meetings and asked for further information on the matter. He queried which radio stations per province were fully functional, and those that were not. He argued that the funding allocated for training and development was insufficient, and suggested that it be raised to respond to some of MDDA’s capacity issues at community stations. He also applauded the provincial representivity of the number of community radio stations, even though Gauteng, the Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal were in the majority with the highest number of community radio stations in the country. He lastly requested a definition of what constituted a fully functional community radio station.

Ms Potye responded that the company secretary and a risk analyst position need to be filled, but mentioned how difficult it had been to match the salary expectations for these positions. She said that the MDDA did not offer competitive salary packages, which had made it difficult to fill critical positions at the entity.

She said a fully functional radio station was regulated by ICASA’s framework, which also granted the licence to broadcast. She commented, however, that most radio stations struggled with establishing governance structures, such as a board of directors.   

Although Ms Potye did not fully respond to the question asked about the issues at Soweto TV, she said that the MDDA conducted road shows to raise awareness on the importance of media diversity. These road shows also assisted the MDDA to understand how some of the ailing community radio stations could be rescued. Most of the issues at community radio stations, including Soweto TV, were their inability to afford their expenses and tax obligations SARS and the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF) would be invited to speak about tax obligations and debt review issues during the road shows.

It was noted from an impact study, that provinces such as Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal and Limpopo were funded more than other provinces, despite it seeming as though there was a representative number of radio station amongst the provinces.

Mr A Arnolds (EFF, Western Cape) thanked the CEO for the in-depth presentation, but said he was displeased with the number of funding models that the MDDA had developed over the years. He queried why the municipalities could not be approached to lower the rental rates for the premises of community radio stations. He commented on the challenges at the MDDA, particularly that it did not have lower level management that could manage at the community level. He observed how problematic this was, particularly with the issue of the accessibility of community radio stations.

Deputy Minister Siweya responded to Mr Arnolds, and said that the new management of MDDA had resolved to develop a new funding model using the lessons learnt from the previous management’s funding model. She remarked that the costs of running a community radio station were high, and this had resulted in stations not meeting their expenses. She highlighted how the MDDA had on occasion gone to court to challenge the release of assets owned by community radio stations, which were seized because they could not pay off their expenses.

Mr A Cloete (FF+, Free State) asked whether Sentech produced the signal for transmission, whether data was needed for online radio stations, and whether the MDDA was in discussions with network service providers. He wanted to know how community radio stations could access funding more easily, and how community radio stations could gain access to information that assisted in generating content. He suggested that the MDDA should collaborate with universities to do research, and request the right to work with postgraduate students to conduct research in exchange for skills and exposure. Lastly, he asked how many commercial radio stations were funded by the MDDA.

Ms Potye pointed out that the funding available to do research was limited and hampered by limiting regulations.

Ms Cheryl Langbridge, Acting Director: Strategy, Monitoring and Evaluation, MDDA, responded to Mr Cloete’s suggestion for collaborating with universities and students to conduct research, and said that the Agency had a strong relationship with Rhodes University and the University of the Witwatersrand, which commissioned research on behalf of the MDDA.

Ms Potye said that the Mamelodi Community Radio Station and Zibonele FM were self-providing stations, but continued to face challenges. There are strict regulations for running a radio station, and said that if a station was off-line for three days, for instance, ICASA could revoke its licence.

She also confirmed that online radio broadcasting needed data provision, and the MDDA had approached network service providers to request a 0% rate on its digital platforms. However, this request had been rejected, and it had only been offered 0% on apps and Uniform Resource Locator (URL), but this did not apply to regional platforms. The MDDA intended to tap into foreign direct investment to raise their funding. 

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked the MDDA to tell Committee Members of the kind of support they offered to community radio stations. She argued that community radio stations needed to be made aware of what was expected of them as it pertained to licensing with ICASA. Were community radio stations provided with feedback after submitting ICASA licensing application forms?

Ms Potye replied that radio stations could appeal the outcome of their licencing applications with ICASA, with which the MDDA assists.

Mr Cloete referred to the mention of public servants and politically affiliated Individuals serving in the management and on the boards of radio stations, contrary to legislative regulations. He asked for clarity on this point.

Ms Siweya responded that community radio stations functioned as non-profit organisations (NPOs). This point had been raised as a challenge for the MDDA, because some public servants used the platform to generate personal income. She stressed that public servants could not use a community radio station platform to conduct personal business with the stations, because they belonged to the state. Public servants also could not serve on any board of a community radio station. She added that the grant funding model would be improved to have measures that would promote and ensure accountability and protect the MDDA and its grant recipients.

She highlighted how the MDDA needed to close the gaps of the fourth industrial revolution, particularly by using technology to make radio accessible to people in the deaf community.

Lastly, she mentioned that community radio stations continued to struggle with their finances because there was a lack of advertising support from companies. The MDDA had made attempts to speak to the National Treasury to enforce a 30% advertising quota on community radio platforms.

The Chairperson thanked MDDA for their presentation, and requested that they rework it so that it addressed the issues raised by Committee members on provincial representivity more clearly, and indicated how many community radio stations existed and were licensed and functional. The Committee would invite the MDDA to another meeting once they had conducted their oversight visits.

The meeting was adjourned.








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