Radio Landscape

This essay will discuss the South African Radio Landscape that we experience today. I will also analyse and contrast news content and production of SAfm as a public broadcaster and Bush Radio as a community radio station.

According to Molefe (2008: 1), after 1994, when the ANC government came into power. An array of new acts were passed that affected all sectors of South Africa. My particular focus will be on broadcasting and its landscape at the time that resulted in the news content and production we experience today. Molefe (2008: 3) indicated that in 1994 national legislation was passed highlighting that an independent authority was to regulate broadcasting in South Africa. This was to ensure that fairness and democracy would reflect in broadcasting across the country. Therefore, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) was created to assist in upholding democratic values. The IBA was later changed to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) where the authority now manages broadcasting and frequency aspects and regulates the industry as a whole. This is where the three tier model stems from. ICASA, as a communications Authority, placed radio broadcasting in a three tier model. This will be discussed below.

The three tiers of the radio landscape are public service, commercial and community radio stations. Public service radio stations are wholly state-owned. These stations rely solely on advertising and license fees, but also rely on the government for occasional ‘bail outs’. The South African Broadcasting Corporation, better known as the SABC is the country’s public service broadcaster and therefore aims to represent all cultures in South Africa through broadcasting. The SABC hosts a band of radio stations example Lotus FM (Indian listenership), SAfm (English station), Ukhozi FM (isiZulu listenership) and Radio Sonder Grense (Afrikaans listenership) as well as many other stations representing all official languages in South Africa.

Commercial radio stations are completely profit driven where its aim is to match advertisers with audiences. Programming is bought by advertisers in return for air-time to advertise their goods and services. Stations such as East Coast Radio, Jacaranda FM and 702 talk radio fall under this tier. Lastly community radio stations aim to build democracy in the context of particular communities. Here, religious stations play a significant role. Their audiences are directly linked to the station itself where development of community spirit is key. Some licensing agreements include catering for a particular interest group. Examples of community stations are Bush Radio (aimed at the Cape flats), RMR (aimed at students at Rhodes University and Radio 786 (Islamic Radio station.

The two radio stations that will be elaborated on are Bush Radio, a community radio station and SAfm, a public service broadcaster. The institutional context which frames the production of news in this sense will be examined.

With regard to Bush Radio, it is important to highlight their aims and objectives as a community radio station. The question is how do they justify the news they select and produce and who is their target audience to which this news is aimed? According to Bush’s Station Profile and General Information, their target audience ranges from the age of 6 to 60. This indicates that it attracts people of all ages and an approximation of 260 000 listeners. According to ICASA, the characteristics of a community radio station should ensure participation from the community, have many talk shows where current affairs affecting the community are addressed and be a non-profit organisation. With reference to Bush Radio, these characteristics seem to be fulfilled. According to, 50 percent of the radio station’s funding comes from advertising, however, they do not accept advertisements from gambling or alcohol companies. This could be regarded as one way of fitting into the ideals of the community radio station, whereby the community is looked after and issues such as gambling addictions and alcoholism are not promoted.

Another important aspect is how Bush Radio, as an institution, shapes their news. Being extremely community based, Bush Radio base their news production on what the community wants to hear. This means that issues that are discussed in community forums are then researched and used in news programmes. These forums occur once a month where staff, made up of volunteers, draws their news from. This shows that Bush Radio’s community broadcasting, amongst their other community upliftment programmes, is strongly aimed at the development and betterment of the community above all else.

To shift the focus to public service broadcasting, SAfm aims to inform, educate and entertain the public. This is, according to Bechan (1996:1), where audiences should be empowered. When listening to SAfm, this audience should be helped to “understand their democratic rights”. SAfm is an English talk radio station and aims its discussion at an array of listeners from all parts of South Africa. Their LSM’s are from 7-10 and attract an audience close to about 500 000 listeners. It is therefore extremely important how they produce news since it affects the nation as it stands. They also attract a more mature audience, between the ages of 30-49. This means that their talk shows should live up to the expectations of that audience age group. The main aim reflected in SAfm’s profile is their aim to diversify their audiences because South Africa is so diverse. This is where staff plays an important role for the radio station.

The staff of SAfm come from an array of backgrounds and use their experiences and research to guide their shows. This means that they attract listeners who are able to relate to them. Their current affairs segments on the station usually comprise of opinions from high-ranked members of the community. These include doctors in sociology, experienced journalists as well as political analysts. The staff speaks from different positions as they are aware of how what they say affects the entire country rather than directed towards a certain community. Therefore a wide set of views and opinions need to be represented. In terms of the institutional context of SAfm, this seems to be apparent based on their diverse staff members and programmes. Ownership and funding of the radio station are huge factors of the way the station produces and selects news content. But this will be looked at in greater detail later on. It is important to establish though that SAfm, a trend I noticed is that many political issues are dealt with on SAfm. This could be because politics and the government stand as a common ground between all communities in South Africa and SAfm, as a public broadcaster needs to reflect this in their production.

This section of the essay will focus on the analysis and comparison of the news content produced on the radio stations elaborated above. Bush Radio and SAfm present news bulletins every hour. The news produced on these stations attracts a very different set of audiences which was highlighted above. But it is important to note that because of this difference in audiences, the content of news produced is different. However, there is an exception where some news will be aired on both stations. We will look at why this is so.

A Bush Radio news bulletin dated 06-04-2010 was analysed against SAfm’s bulletin on the same day. I noticed that AWB leader, Eugene Terreblanche’s murder was the top story for both bulletins. However, different angles were used. Where Bush Radio gave a straight account of the murder and the position of the suspects, SAfm politicized the entire story to bring in Malema’s hate speech judgement as well as a soundbyte from DA leader, Helen Zille.. It is clear that SAfm had more access to resources in this case since they were able to get sound bytes from politicians because their reporters were able to attend the meetings. Bush Radio on the other gave a straight read of the story, not incorporating sound bytes or voicers. This might be because of a lack of access of material resources such as upgraded equipment and sufficient transportation to cover stories properly, since they are a Cape Town-based community radio station.

Bush Radio, as a local community radio station serves a much smaller audience as opposed to SAfm, which is a national broadcaster. A common trend I noticed is that SAfm focuses on nation and international political news more than anything else. This was apparent on 10-04-2010. Bush Radio trends show more local news taking precedence over all else. However, there are spurts of national news, though they are ’straight-reads’ reports rather than in-depth researched stories. I believe a reason for this could be because Bush Radio caters to listeners whose interests are not reflected in political news, let alone international news. It could be argued that this audience prefers local news, which they can relate to and understand more easily. Examples of national stories aired by Bush Radio have much to do with politicians who affect the lives of the community such as Julius Malema. This could be because Julius Malema could have a large support from the community that Bush Radio caters for. This is perhaps why Malema’s story was a top story for Bush Radio on 09-04-2010. On the same day, SAfm aired the same story, but it was not a top story.

First is important to look at the difference in style and language used in both stations. The reporting on Bush Radio seems to be much more simple and easy to understand as opposed to the language used by SAfm. Since SAfm uses a lot of political jargon because their stories are politically oriented, many might not be able to engage with what the anchors are saying. Bush Radio seems to use no jargon of any sort. Since many of their stories are ‘straight- reads’, it makes it easier to relate to what the anchor says.

To take a closer look at SAfm’s news content, it seems clear that the focus lies on national, political and international news. There is very rarely local news that affects a particular group. This could be because SAfm is not constricted to one area but as a public broadcaster, needs to be able to cater for all groups on people on a national scale.

The above essay takes a closer look into the South African Radio Broadcasting Landscape and compares as analyses different stations based on the three tier radio landscape of public, commercial and community broadcasters. It is clear that different stations, based on their resources, size and target audiences adjust the content they produce accordingly. I believe that this is not a bad thing; it simply means that news broadcasters are trying to make news as accessible as possible to their listeners by producing it in a way they see fit.

Reference List

Molefe, R. 2008. “What Vision for a Community Radio Network in Africa: Rebuilding AMARC Africa Network”. Accra: Ghana.

Bechan, N. 1996. “An Evaluation of SAfm as a public service broadcaster: A Technical Report”. Centre for Cultural and Media Studies: University of Natal.

Information for Bush Radio: Available on: