This year, as a variation on the theme in last December’s African issue, we have decided to focus solely on the South African media companies doing business north of our borders. We have done this because it’s far more relevant to our readers, because a worthwhile review of all top-tier African media owners is virtually impossible in a magazine this size, and because South African big media seems about to push into the continent on a scale that could transform everything. Given this last point, what hasn’t changed from the December 2004 issue is our coverage of the “next imperialist” angle.
As our lead story details, new SABC chief executive Dali Mpofu has a plan to take the public broadcaster into Africa on a monumental scale. He aims to set up two 24-hour channels, one news and one entertainment, each broadcasting across the length and breadth of the continent, with content specifically designed for every economic bloc in a range of colonial and indigenous languages. Mpofu wants to do this by securing partnerships with Africa’s terrestrial public broadcasters, and although he’s confident of getting the buy-in of the African Union he’s well aware that his major obstacle (aside, of course, from the massive funding he’ll need) will be anti-South African sentiment.
The features on local companies operating in various African print, broadcast and outdoor sectors tell a similar story. All the South African executives quoted know from experience that the further we push into the continent, the more we are perceived as the latest in a long list of colonisers; and the more critical it then becomes to establish partnerships that involve and empower the players in any given country.
The reason for the ever-widening forays of our private media companies is of course commercial. A number of voices in this issue point out that Africa is witnessing the rise of a young urban middle class, with growing discretionary spending power and a taste for new media forms. Simply put, African media is a lucrative and relatively untapped growth market.
The SABC’s reason for expansion could be slightly different. “One of the key corporate goals for this organisation is assisting with the African renaissance and Nepad,” Mpofu explains. But whatever the motivating factor, is the phenomenon of the media multinational a good thing for Africa? Surprisingly, Professor Tawana Kupe seems to think so. He argues that Nepad and African states should implement mechanisms that encourage cross-border ventures, because many African markets are too small to maintain any sort of media diversity. He also encourages the creation of a continental network of public broadcasters: “Something to counter the stories of the western media’s parachute journalists, with their stereotypical doom and gloom framing of the continent.”