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UJ seminar celebrates 100 Years of Radio in South Africa on UNESCO World Radio Day

On February 13th, 2024, South Africa reached a significant milestone as it observed both UNESCO World Radio Day and commemorated a century of radio broadcasting in the country. To mark this historic event, the University of Johannesburg (UJ)’s Department of Communication and Media hosted a seminar titled “A Century of Informing, Entertaining, and Educating the Nation.”

The seminar, held at UJ’s Auckland Park Kingsway campus, brought together a diverse array of speakers representing government, academia, policy makers, and radio industry professionals. The sessions were dedicated to exploring the dynamic landscape of radio, navigating its challenges and opportunities in the face of an evolving media environment shaped by the emergence of streaming services, podcasting, artificial intelligence, and social media.

Picture: Metro FM presenter Khutso Theledi stands between UJ’s Prof Admire Mare (L), HoD: Communications and Media Studies and Senior Lecturer Dr Prinola Govenden(R). Metro FM had a live broadcast at UJ to commemorate World Radio Day

Addressing the significance of radio within the African context, Dr Prinola Govenden, a Senior Lecturer in UJ’s Department of Communication and Media, emphasised radio’s pivotal role as an information source for many across the continent. “Radio holds a contested position in South Africa,” she said. “What’s notable about radio across the continent is its widespread usage and trustworthiness. In South Africa, where only 60% of the population is digital and 70% of Sub-Saharan Africa remains offline, radio stands as a crucial lifeline. Numerous academic studies corroborate radio’s indispensable status on the African continent,” she said.

Dr Mashilo Boloka, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Film and Publication Board (FPB), highlighted the necessity for a comprehensive representation of African issues on radio. Dr Boloko proposed enhancing Channel Africa’s radio channel to rival global platforms like Voice of America, emphasising the significance of portraying Africa in its own voice. This, he argued, would be a pivotal step in shaping Africa’s image according to its desired narrative.

Nada Wotshela, Group Executive for South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Radio, accentuated the importance of the public broadcaster’s commitment to serving diverse linguistic communities in South Africa. “As the public broadcaster, we take pride in offering at least one radio station dedicated to each of the 11 official languages,” she explained. “This ensures that we can effectively inform and entertain the diverse population of South Africa.” She stressed the value of linguistic proficiency among broadcasters and urged higher education institutions to integrate modules for indigenous languages into journalism and media studies curricula. “We’ve observed a concerning trend among recent graduates where their proficiency in our indigenous languages is lacking,” said Wotshela. “Listeners are passionate about hearing presenters who can accurately pronounce words and translate news stories from English into our country’s 11 official languages.”

Lumko Mtimde, an expert in ICT, Media & Regulation, guided the audience through a retrospective of radio’s evolution spanning a century. Mtimde pointed out the importance of acknowledging a distinct historical narrative, noting the intertwining of South Africa’s apartheid past with the development of radio.

The seminar boasted a respected lineup of speakers, including representatives from noteworthy organisations such as the South African National Commission for UNESCO, Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), and academic experts from UJ.

As the seminar came to an end, it acted as a reminder of the lasting impact radio holds within South Africa’s cultural, social, and political realms. Through reflection on the past and a readiness to tackle forthcoming obstacles, stakeholders in the radio sector reiterated their dedication to informing, entertaining, and educating the nation for not just the next century, but well into the future.

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