Keeping an ear on the local airwaves

This month’s focus on African-language (or vernacular) media came about as the result of a question. With the listenership figures on SABC’s PBS stations Ukhozi FM, Umhlobo Wenene FM and Lesedi FM still outstripping anything else that local radio has to offer (apart, of course, from the SABC’s own commercial station Metro FM), what are the revenue figures looking like?

The answer: they don’t look like much. Judi Nwokedi, managing director of public broadcasting services at the SABC, gives a remarkably forthright take on the disparity.
In her interview with us, she points out that presenters such as Chomane Chomane and Thuso Motaung of Lesedi are “great South Africans” about whom the advertising industry knows hardly anything. Given that these two gentlemen attract around 4.2-million listeners between them, she thinks the industry should start to inform itself. We concur.

There are probably more than a few readers who are about to put this editorial down now. The Media has flogged the “racism in media and advertising” angle to death, some will say. Sure, the archetypal white media planner or marketer still can’t spell the names of the black brands properly, but there have been two parliamentary hearings and the country is fully aware of the issue—so give it a break.

But maybe that’s part of the problem. The heat is off. We haven’t heard a whole lot from the portfolio committee on communications since former chair Nkenke Kekana left to join Telkom, and even the GCIS isn’t answering questions. Like Nwokedi, we’d like to know why that is.

Which isn’t to say that Nwokedi is only pointing the figure outwards. She’s been driving a “brand activation” campaign to get the African-language stations marketed properly. Because it’s plain to her, as it is to us, that advertisers should be “banging down the doors”.

At the Zulu-language newspapers in KwaZulu-Natal things are a lot better. As the feature shows, all three titles have been showing consistent growth in revenue and circulation for a number of years. The only question this poses: why aren’t there mainstream newspapers in vernacular languages apart from Zulu?

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