With job or income creation being one of the top challenges facing S.A; there’s an opportunity- once more- for a stronger case to be heard and move decisively to make quotas favour more South African creative output.
Words by Bongani Mahlangu
ICASA, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, has within its grasp a solid enough reason to upwardly adjust the broadcast content quotas to favour domestic creative and cultural output.
Such a move may re-trigger the local is lekker vibe that has fizzled out over the years. The time is perfect for ICASA to play its role in unlocking the potential of the creative and cultural sector in boosting local wealth and job creation efforts.
President Jacob Zuma’s administration wants to create an average of half a million jobs a year, which will come to a total of five million jobs in a decade. The state’s focus on the same industries, like agriculture and mining, that had been relied upon for the last 20 years of democracy will not contribute much towards reaching Zuma’s administration goal.
The increase of quotas is necessary to protect or put domestic creative output on the same competitive level with the foreign performing arts onslaught.Before the benefits, such as wealth and job creation, of protecting local creative and cultural output are outlined we need to get out of the way some arguments that will certainly rise against the issue of quotas. Those include free trade (which in this case means people must get a daily dose of the European and American cultural drug for them to feel normal and cutting edge) and claims that there’s “low production of South African music across different genres.”
With an exception, maybe of classical music, the latter argument is just hogwash used by those who want their overdose of the red, blue and white cultural fix, sprinkled with blue stars, at all costs. If indeed there is low production of local music across the genres then than presents an opportunity to move production- there’s plenty of raw material to work with- onto a high gear thereby creating employment opportunities.
South Africa can learn from South Korea whose president after president stood firm on protecting their countries’ creative industries since the 1960s.
As part of giving back to the country that allows radio station owners the freedom and opportunity to make as much profits as they can, it should be made part of a licence condition that a station dedicate some effort and airtime towards the building of a highly competitive creative sector. Since radio stations this country excitedly jump at any opportunity to sponsor or partners a foreign gig, quotas may be upped, to about 50% for commercial radio, with ten to fifteen percent dedicated to the stations’ supporting a local live music circuit – not with gig announcements.
On the subject of free trade, there’s first a need to expose the hypocrisy and intentions of the U.S. Also the issue needs to be extensively analysed for it to be fully and better grasped. But firstly, one of the stipulated conditions of free trade is that the market forces should be allowed to make their choice. This, as demonstrated further down in this piece, of course seem to only applies if the forces favour American products.
A 2007 Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSa) report- that’s the last one made available on the organisations’ website- revealed that local consumers of creative goods such as CDs, DVDs and cassettes favoured local creative and cultural produce.
The report shows that more Mzansi music, than foreign, was bought between 2004 and 2006. There were just over nine million international recorded music sales products compared to the over eleven million local product sales in 2004. The sales for local music product went up slightly to 11 709 566 in 2005 compared to 10 883 945 for international and in 2006 international music products dropped to 9 821 457 whilst Mzansi sales went up to 13 726 885. These market forces’ preference has rarely been reflected in the play-lists of domestic radio station.
Secondly, the Americans have perfected the art of making sure that the act of protection has negative connotations to it when performed by others when they themselves have always been hardcore protectionists. Through its demands and insistence of free trade, the U.S. has nurtured lucrative markets for itself throughout the globe. “For the record(ing) and motion picture industries, for example, exports account for approximately sixty percent of revenues,” Greg Frazier rallying government support, in 2007, for the Motion Picture Association of America and the Entertainment Industry Coalition for Free Trade (EIC).
As things stand Mzansi is a culturally conquered nation, a country of foreign servants.
The free trade crusade, at least on the part of the U.S. is purely aimed at swelling that countries’ coffers by any means necessary and making life comfortable for the American worker or easy for the job seeker. Elizabeth Frazee, executive director of the EIC, could not agree more when she commented on the announcement of the U.S.-Korea free trade signing. “This groundbreaking agreement will advance the interests of the U.S. entertainment industry, a source of well-paying U.S. jobs and the foundation of the U.S. creative economy.”
Statements and actions by the likes of Fraeze and others mentioned in this piece show that it is not purely as a result of the “greatness” or brilliance of the American creative output that they have helped keep unemployment figures mostly below 10 percent in that country for the last 60 years. The U.S. Bureau of Labour tells us that from 1948 until 2010 the United States’ Unemployment Rate averaged 5.70 percent reaching an historical high of 10.80 percent in November of 1982 and a record low of 2.50 percent in May of 1953.
The basis of any American action is always the protection and advancement of its interests- the selfishness of a country if you like- hence successive governments during that countries infancy were against free trade because that system did not favour their industries and people at the time.
Alezandra Hamilton, the first U.S Secretary of Treasury, advocated for tariffs to help protect infant industries. Hamilton’s advocacy was continued under a plan named “American System ” of economics originally called the “American Way – a mercantilist economic plan that played a crucial role in American policy during the first half of the 19th century. The plan consisted of three mutually re-enforcing parts, which included a tariff to protect and promote American industry.
The Republican Party led by Abraham Lincoln strongly opposed free trade and during the American Civil War he imposed a 44 percent tariff to protect favoured industries. President William McKinley clearly articulated the United States’ stance under the Republican.
“Under free trade the trader is the master and the producer the slave. Protection is but the law of nature, law of self-preservation, of self-development, of securing the highest and best destiny of the race of man.”
A policy of the Republican Party thereafter was for tariff and support of protection to boost the growth of infrastructure and industrialization of America. Protective tariffs, between 20%-25% tax on imported goods, were aimed at protecting America’s business from foreign competition. We learn that congress passed a tariff, in 1816, which made European goods more expensive and encouraged consumers to buy relatively cheaper American-made goods.
Once the US had gotten its industry on firm ground and felt competition was no longer a threat to its industries and American jobs, it looked outside its borders to expand and sustain its gains. “Since the end of World War 2, in part due to industrial supremacy and the onset of the Cold War, the U.S. government has become one of the most consistent proponents of reduced tariff barriers and free trade,” reports Wikipedia.
The South Africa government needs to shove some steel in the spine of its creative industries to make them stick so that they can create wealth and descent employment for its citizens.
Countries that would not readily buy into their free trade crusade have been threatened and intimidated.
“We believe that free trade is the only salvation that we are going to have in dealing with countries around the world. The minute anybody tries to erect trade barriers, there is a viral contagion effect which spreads all over the world, and suddenly you find yourself faced with all kinds of problems that you wish you did not have,” Jack Valenti, President of the Motion Picture Export Association of America (MPEA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
Valenti was basically saying Uncle Sam has a license to steal the little countries’ livelihood in the name of free trade. “Disobedient” countries are often threatened with the withdrawal of American investment, aid and the viral contagion effect refers to the participation of the powerful U.S. “allies’ in implementing methods of punishment such as sanctions.
“Unless something is turned around to make sure that the old phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ must be an instruction given to foreign countries that if they persist in hedge rowing their borders, they are going to have some injury that they are not going to like,” Valenti.
American’s scare tactics may explain the high level of threading with care by many third world countries so as not to upset the free trade advocates from the bully nations. But the continuing attraction of diverse investors from nations like China and India could be an advantage to this country is a sense that S.A cannot be easily threatened by the “we will disinvest” sulks of individual and countries used to having their way.
McKinley words of wisdom on protection of industry should be thrown back at the greedy Americans and Europeans whenever they moan about trade barriers or quotas.
“Protection is but the law of nature, law of self-preservation, of self-development, of securing the highest and best destiny of the race of man.”
South Africa can learn from South Korea whose president after president stood firm on protecting their countries’ creative industries since the 1960s. It took that country a while, lots of pain (as per Valenti’s instruction) and financial investment on its part before it began reaping the rewards of their resolve when it came to the protection and promotion their cultural and creative industries particularly its film industry.
According to the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), 15.9 percent of all films screened in the Korea in 1991 were locally made films. In less than eight years, the domestic market share more than doubled to 39.7 percent in 1999 and tripled to 50.1 percent in 2001. Between January and June 2004 the domestic share of Korean films reached heights of 62 percent and in 2005 the industry maintained a steady market share of about 50%. South Korea’s resolve on its Screen Quota System (SQS) has undoubtedly contributed to that countries contemporary film boom.
The Cultural Industries Growth Strategy, released in 1998, identified South African weaknesses as “limited resources to ensure promotion of artists, lack of coordination between different initiatives and statistical data about potential markets. These weaknesses have led to a bad outlook for Mzansi. It will be stating the obvious to announce that South Africa is a cultural colony- mainly of the US and secondly the UK. Overwhelming evidence on display at public exhibition spaces point to the fact that this country has become a goldmine where foreign creative workers and businesses earn top dollars.
The big sponsorship and marketing budgets, the enthusiasm and acres of space allocated to promote foreign creative output, but suddenly disappears when it’s the turn of local creative produce, confirms the cultural colony status. Never mind the obsession with imported designer clothing and shoes – As things stand Mzansi is a culturally conquered nation, a country of foreign servants.
Lately there has been more imported stage musicals and licensed reality television programmes -This Is It, Dream Girls, The X-factor Simply The Best,… and concerts by acts from across the seas. Mzansi’s creative sector has on it’s own not exported much besides the musicals African Footprint, Umoja and Soweto Gospel Choir. In fact this country has even failed to take over the borders the musical Ma Brr! which is based on the music of the late pop star icon Brenda Fassie.
Further confirming Mzansi’s status as a cultural colony is the sharp increase of licensed foreign programmes fronted by locals on our screens -Pop Idols, Survivor, Big Brother, South Africa’s Got Talent…. the list is endless. All this is in addition to a long-standing tradition of the broadcast media, particularly the commercial ones, handing over South African money, in truck loads, to foreign songwriters and composers and the banal television diet of American films, more reality shows, dramas, sitcoms, talk shows and music videos.
Credit is perfectly given to the American film and television industry-which dominates most of the world’s media markets- as the chief mediums by which people across the globe see American fashions, customs, scenery and way of life.
“It’s cheaper to buy foreign content than to produce local,” we have been told many times. It’s a kind of thinking and singing of the exact tune that easily plays into the hands of foreign content producers just the way it’s been planned and expected to be.
Christine Ogan writing in the Journal of communication in 1988 told of how imperialism is often described as a process whereby the United States and Western Europe produce most of the media products, make the first profits from domestic sales, and then market the product in Third World countries at costs considerably lower that those the countries would have to bear to produce similar products at home.
It’s the same in journalism especially where “celebrity” stories and feature pieces on American films and their icons are often made available at no cost to the South African press.
While there’s no cash being paid, Mzansi pays the prize in many other ways –which includes remaining highly dependent on other countries for its general wellbeing, state of mind and cultural view. On the subject of Americanization, credit is perfectly given to the American film and television industry- which dominates most of the world’s media markets- as the chief mediums by which people across the globe see American fashions, customs, scenery and way of life. This again is a well-calculated strategy to create demand for American products.
If it’s expensive to produce local content, then how come the bright sparks at the echelons of power at local television stations have not explored ways to absorb the expenses instead of running for the cheap- but costly to the countries economy and identity- and easy way out?
Owing to a narrow-minded way of doing things and desire to be regarded as the best, most radio stations have hired UK and US “expert” to direct them on how local stations should sound. It is through the experts’ foreign formats, which are in favour of content from their countries, that cultural and broadcast colonialism has been perpetuated in South Africa.
Mzansi has plenty of advantages on its side, which include abundance of talent in the creative sector and good support for it from the general population.
Thus quotas in favour of national creative output should be increased instead of being surrendered or left at the low figures that they are and they should extend to the film industry. As things stand there are no quotas for film screened at commercial theatres like NuMetro and Ste Kinekor. Public and community radio are expected to broadcast 40 percent of local content while commercial station fly foreign flags with a 75/25 split with the less percentage allocate to homebrewed content. Commercial free-to air television station like e.tv are expected to flight 35 percent local content, terrestrial subscription 8 percent and public service television- SABC- 55 percent.
South Africa’s too liberal and lax approach to local quotas could completely lead to the mistakes committed by countries like Mexico and Taiwan when they surrendered their screen quota restrictions, which resulted to a sharp decline in their respective domestic film industries. In the late 1980s, prior to Mexican government signing the North America Free Trade agreement (NAFTA in 1994), the number of Mexican films reached about 100 per year. Yet, after joining NAFTA, the US required Mexico to reduce its film import quotas, resulting in the apparent decimation of the local production industry. The number of films produced between 1995 and 2002 ranged from 14 to 27- with a record low of 10 in 1998.
South Africa is a young country and it is within its right, just as it was the case with America in it’s infant and younger days, to be allowed space to protect and build its industries for the wellbeing of its people. To borrow from Valenti’s vocabulary, the South Africa government needs to shove some steel in the spine of its creative industries to make them stick so that they can create wealth and descent employment for its citizens.
The building of a solid showbiz industry and creation sustainable jobs, through the creative and cultural industries, for South Africans is worth fighting for.
The South African creative industries are an economic and cultural asset worth fighting for. It will be pure dumbness on South Africa’s part to surrender or even loose the cultural imperialism war when the country has so much creative ammunition.
NB: We highly recommend you to listen to stations like North West FM, especially on Thursdays when they dedicate the entire day to proudly South African music. This is in addition to playing a fair amount of music on any other day. they are available on the internet and on 89,8 -103,9FM