Following a period of sustained criticism for cutting back or cancelling the air-time of gay and Christian groups, SABC national station Radio 2000 has reacted strongly with the assertion that their new programme schedule – implemented this month – fulfils the public broadcasting mandate as dictated by regulator Icasa. Radio 2000 denies that any groups have been actively marginalised, and contends that it is ‘as democratic a station as you are ever likely to get”.
Radio 2000’s forceful response comes on the back of their decision, announced ten days ago, that they will be slashing Radio Pulpit’s 4am to 11am weekday slot by five hours. From June 2006 the Christian programme will end at 6am on weekdays, with the Sunday slot running from 4am to 7am.
A media release put out by Radio Pulpit, which also broadcasts 24-hours a day in Gauteng on the medium wave frequency (657 khz), asked: ‘Will the voice of the only national Christian radio station soon be silenced?”
The Christian broadcaster objected that only 10 percent of their audience are listening between 4am and 6am, and that ‘one dire result will be that more than 300,000 listeners of all language groups countrywide will no longer be able to listen to Radio Pulpit on [the FM frequency].”
Lesego Mncwango, SABC spokesperson and acting general manager of corporate communications, has acknowledged that Christians represent 75 percent of all South Africans, but says ‘there is great diversity” as to what constitutes the broader religion. ‘Only that segment of evangelical fundamentalists has been given air-time in the past,” she says.
Nevertheless, head of Radio Pulpit Dr Roelf Petersen has told eMedia: ‘[Radio 2000] have recently apparently awarded a lot of airtime to the Catholic station Veritas—The Catholics (Veritas) are only representative of 8,8 percent of the Christian community in SA while Radio Pulpit can prove that we represent the interdenominational interests of most of the remaining mainline churches in SA. We enquired about this but received no response.”
Now reacting to the question, Mncwango says: ‘Radio Pulpit can reflect the numbers as they wish, but they only represent a portion of Christians. Other religions have been asking for air-time, and only they have been getting seven hours a day. We are about access for a diverse nation, we are not solely a platform for religious conservatives.”
Mncwango continues that the SABC station will soon be giving a platform to all five major religions, although she emphasises that ‘the idea is not to divide air-time up according to demographic classes, as we would never have enough.”
Radio 2000’s general manager, Afzel Mohamed, adds that while the association with Radio Pulpit began 17 years ago, the station’s obligations were altered when it was moved out of the SABC’s public commercial service (PCS) to the public broadcast service (PBS) portfolio in August last year.
‘As such we need to fulfill our public broadcast mandate,” says Mohamed. ‘Our philosophy is guided by our Icasa licensing conditions, which are quite clear. As of 21 March next year we need to provide a balanced range of programming genres, including education, sport, religion and music, in a balanced range of official languages. Reflection of the country’s diversity is our main goal.”
Even so, in August eMedia reported that Radio 2000 shut down Tuesday Nite Live, which was the only gay and lesbian radio programme broadcasting to a national audience. In a follow-up article in September we reported that the show’s executive producer Maciek Mazur, together with a working coalition of six non-governmental gay and lesbian organisations, had publicly challenged the SABC to explain itself in a meeting scheduled with the corporation’s CEO Dali Mpofu.
On that issue, Radio 2000 station manager Richard Jones says simply: ‘Michiel de Kok is starting on Wednesday November 30, between 8 and 9.30pm, with a weekly programme called Alternative Lifestyle. Here’s our new gay show. Michiel is giving us more of what we previously wanted from the show.”
Mohamed adds: ‘Despite the selective negative coverage we got off the closure of Tuesday Nite Live, we have never said we are taking the show off and not replacing it—like every other broadcaster we must insist on editorial integrity, and we reserve the right to ensure that what’s on air should be on air.”
What Radio 2000 do not seem to be aware of, however, is that Mazur met with Mpofu on November 22. ‘The meeting went very well,” says Mazur. ‘In his [Mpofu’s] words, it was a listening exercise. He said there is certainly a space and a need for this programme in the SABC. The practicalities will be outlined in the next three weeks.”
Whatever that says about the SABC’s internal communication processes, at least it’s clear now that Radio 2000 are well aware of their own mandate. ‘Radio 2000 is essentially a facility station,” says Mncwango. ‘It is a platform made available to all people to reflect and broadcast events of national importance.”
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