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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


CROUCAMP, Piet. Public broadcasting and political interventionism in a post liberation society: The SABC and contending meta-narratives (regime preferences). Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2009, vol.49, n.1, pp.98-109. ISSN 2224-7912.

The discourse pertaining to the role and function of the public broadcaster reflects diverse and competing meta-narratives. Meta-narratives refer to the normative political preferences pertaining to the consolidation of institutions of social order, and the formulation of the rules and social values underlying such rules. A number of meta-narratives are reflected in the discourse pertaining to the role and functioning of the public broadcaster in South Africa. This article reflects on the contending regime preferences of liberationism and libertarianism, prevalent within society, as well as the state, and the extent to which they (contending regimes) influence notions of control and authority in the SABC. The premis is that this contest between dominant regimes will determine how the SABC executes its mandate. A cardinal indicator of liberationism is the justification for state interventionism in the distribution of the greater good and the need to facilitate a nation-building program. To the contrary libertarianism advances the notion of institutional autonomy for the public broadcaster (from the state-building process), as a means of protecting the public broadcasting from state interference. The SABC operates in the context of a developing political economy and a relative weak institutionalised state. Under such conditions, the ruling party -with its history embedded in liberationist justifications for justice and social order - functions under continuous societal pressure to legitimise its policies and its implementation (or lack of implementation). The conclusion is that weak states and governments which experience strong (but fragmented) societies encroaching upon their autonomy, will experience the urge to occupy the public broadcaster with party-political functionaries, and then use the institution in the justification of a particular regime preference. The prospect of the public broadcaster becoming a state broadcaster is therefore pertinent under conditions typical to post-liberationist societies where the state is weak and democracy not consolidated. In this context, due to its opposition to interventionism, libertarianism is stigmatised as a regime preference, especially so those social values associated with market forces, and which are left to - largely unfettered - determine the extent and nature of social justice and representation. Liberationism and its institutional architecture emphasise the necessity of representation, whereas libertarianism defines the role of the state and government in terms of its accountability to the electorate or society. The management of the SABC, and the execution of the mandate of the public broadcaster, therefore, reflect the struggles within society and those conflicts permeating the relations between state and society, and/or between the ruling party and its contenders. Whether or not it is at all possible for the (colonial) tradition of public broadcasting to be established in a developing political economy, is a moot point. That, however, does not question the pedagogic role of the national broadcaster, it merely suggests that it may well not be feasible to conceptualise the role of the SABC in libertarian terms or to expect the state (or the ruling party) to maintain an operational distance between itself and the main source of national news in South Africa.

Keywords : SABC; SABC Board; newsroom; regime; liberalism; utilitarianism; public broadcasting; political liberation; accountability; representivity.

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