Join Friends of Pambazuka

Subscribe for Free!

Fahamu Bulletin Archive

About our Programmes

Donate to Pambazuka News!

Follow Us

delicious bookmarks facebook twitter

Pambazuka News

Latest titles from Pambazuka Press

African Sexualities

Earth Grab A Reader
Sylvia Tamale
A groundbreaking book, accessible but scholarly, by African activists. It uses research, life stories and artistic expression to examine dominant and deviant sexualities, and investigate the intersections between sex, power, masculinities and femininities
Buy now

Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya

From Citizen to Refugee Horace Campbell
In this elegantly written and incisive account, scholar Horace Campbell investigates the political and economic crises of the early twenty-first century through the prism of NATO's intervention in Libya.
Buy now

Queer African Reader

Demystifying Aid Edited by Sokari Ekine, Hakima Abbas
A diverse collection of writing from across the continent exploring African LGBTI liberation: identity, tactics for activism, international solidarity, homophobia and global politics, religion and culture, and intersections with social justice movements. A richness of voices, a multiplicity of discourses, a quiverful of arguments. African queers writing for each other, theorising ourselves, making our ...more
Buy now

China and Angola

African Awakening A Marriage of Convenience?
Edited by Marcus Power, Ana Alves
This book focuses on the increased co-operation between Angola and China and shows that although relations with China might have bolstered regime stability and boosted the international standing of the Angolan government, China is not regarded as a long term strategic partner.
Buy now

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

To Cook a ContinentWalter Rodney
Rodney shows how the imperial countries of Europe, and subsequently the US, bear major responsibility for impoverishing Africa. They have been joined in this exploitation by agents or unwitting accomplices both in the North and in Africa.
Buy now

Pambazuka News Broadcasts

Pambazuka broadcasts feature audio and video content with cutting edge commentary and debate from social justice movements across the continent.

See the list of episodes.


This site has been established by Fahamu to provide regular feedback to African civil society organisations on what is happening with the African Union.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Books & arts

The complexities of media regulation

Fackson Banda

2006-08-31, Issue 267

Bookmark and Share

Printer friendly version

Book Review: Article 19. 2006. Broadcasting pluralism and diversity: training manual for African regulators. London: Article 19. 112 pp. ISBN: 1-902598-82-2.

The 1990s saw the unfolding of the process of liberalisation, a facet of economic globalisation, across sub-Saharan Africa. This process had significant, albeit differing, implications for the broadcasting landscape. For one thing, there was an emergence of commercial and community broadcasting projects, posing a challenge to the hitherto monolithic broadcasting systems extant in most countries. For another, the process of technological convergence was tugging at telecommunications and broadcasting policy-makers, presenting them with new problems and possibilities. Underpinning all these developments was the value of democracy and democratisation.

Which is why the manual by Article 19, under the banner of the Global Campaign for Free Expression, is a propitious contribution to the escalating debates about media regulation and its desirability for the transitional democracies of Africa.

Chapter 1 explores the principles underpinning broadcast media regulation, not least freedom of expression, freedom of information, diversity and pluralism, media access and editorial independence. It also ratchets up the regulatory challenges posed by digitalisation and convergence, arguing that this presents opportunities for expanding the broadcasting-communicative space. Chapter 2 analyses the structure and functionality of broadcasting regulatory bodies. It emphasises the importance of independent and accountable regulators, endowed with the necessary powers and funds to operate effectively. Chapter 3 discusses regulatory aspects relating to the licensing of broadcasters: the necessity of a licence; eligibility for a licence; the three-tier broadcasting licensing system; the licensing process itself; and the licence conditions that must apply.

Chapter 4 isolates the regulation of content for specific discussion, giving the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) as a useful model in this regard. Lastly, chapter 5 examines the nature of complaints and sanctions meted out by regulatory agencies, noting that these must generally be proportionate to the ‘offence’ committed (p. 80). The rest of the manual is devoted to ‘further resources’, appendices and ‘notes for trainers’ (pp. 93-112).

The manual is a decidedly easy read -- this is its first striking feature, as soon as you start flipping through the pages. It is a step-by-step training resource. Apart from being a simplified read, the manual is didactic. This is evident in three devices used to engage the reader. There are three types of box, each focusing on one of the following: ‘brainstorm’; ‘discussion point’ and ‘revision point.’ These serve as participatory tools, engaging the reader in deeper and more critical reflection on the subject. It is this simplicity of argumentation and exposition that makes this training manual stand out from most of the other written pierces of discourse on broadcast media regulation.

This very simplicity is also its major weakness. Admittedly, this is not an academic treatise to bother about ‘theorising’ broadcasting regulation. By definition, a manual is essentially instructional. But the ‘instructions’ therein are informed by some ‘theoretical’ principles evolved over time. Which is why one is at liberty to ‘theoretically’ interrogate some of the assumptions implicit in the manual, such as, for example, the apparent dislocation of the regulators from their social and political structures. Media regulation is a heavily politicised activity. It is not surprising that Horwitz postulates six theories – ‘public interest’, ‘regulatory failure’, ‘conspiracy’, ‘economic capture-conspiracy’, ‘organisational’ and ‘capitalist state’ theories -- to explain the dynamics of media regulation (Horwitz, RB. 1997. Theories of media regulation, in The political economy of the media edited by P. Golding & G. Murdock. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar).

Examples abound in which some, or all, of these theories are applicable. Only recently the South African minister of communications attempted to introduce an amendment to the ICASA Act 2000 that would make the state have a stronger say in the appointment of councillors of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). Had this motion become law, the regulatory authority would have been ‘captured’ by the state machinery. Furthermore, human agency suggests that regulatory bureaucrats are susceptible to even subtler controls than those alluded to by the manual. Of course, we need not belabour the fact that the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) has resulted in a heavily regulated media regime. In such a situation, broadcasting ‘deregulation’ would be preferable to ‘regulation’. But, for understandable reasons, it is beyond the scope of this manual to delve into the political contextualisation of media regulation in Africa.

Apart from this substantive observation, the other problematic aspects of the manual are editorial. Firstly, many of the details in the map on page 18 are blurred. The explanatory key is completely illegible. Secondly, page 69 has one glaring conceptual error. In trying to explain the ‘quantitative’ definition of ‘local content’, the author confuses it with the ‘qualitative’ aspect of local content requirements. Thirdly, here and there, one notices some typographical errors (for examples of this, see pages 29, 42 and 54).

These shortcomings do not, in any way, derogate from the integrity of the manual as a resource worth reading by all those who would understand the complexities of media regulation.

* Professor Fackson Banda is the SABMiller Chair of Media & Democracy,
School of Journalism & Media Studies, Rhodes University.

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

↑ back to top

ISSN 1753-6839 Pambazuka News English Edition

ISSN 1753-6847 Pambazuka News en Français

ISSN 1757-6504 Pambazuka News em Português

© 2009 Fahamu -