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THE TAALSEKRETARIAAT & TABEMA

TOWARDS A MULTILINGUAL PUBLIC BROADCASTER

(CONTRIBUTION OF THE TAALSEKRETARIAAT AND TABEMA TO THE SABC BOARD LANGUAGE WORKSHOP ON 29 NOVEMBER 2002)


TAALSEKRETARIAAT & TABEMA,
STELLENBOSCH

NOVEMBER 2002


CONTENTS


A. Background

B. Basic Assumptions Regarding Public Broadcasting in a Multilingual Society

C. “Lessons Learnt About Language Policy Implementation at the SABC”

D. “Key Priority Focus Areas that Are Critical for Implementation of the Language Policy”

E. Conclusion: Towards Language Equity on TV

F. Appendix: The Question of Language Grouping


“We will not permit it that our differences in terms of race, colour and culture serve as cause for us to treat one another as other than South Africans who share a common patriotism and common destiny. Neither shall we permit it that any of our languages, our cultures and religions is reduced to a position of inferiority or domination by another.”
— President Thabo Mbeki, 9 October 1999.


“Many of us have been aware of the marginalisation of indigenous languages by the broadcast media. Apart from news and an occasional drama on television, almost all programmes are in English.

The finding  that 70% of SABC broadcasting is in English is shocking but not entirely unexpected. But the further finding that 78% of those surveyed did not fully understand speeches delivered in English by politicians means that a large percentage of the population is excluded from the democratic process in this country 

The domination of English disempowers so many people. We have often seen people being interviewed on television struggling to put their message across in English. In most cases, it is quite apparent that they would express themselves better if they were allowed to communicate in their own language 

It is  crucial that children be taught in their mother tongue. This also pleads the case for children’s programmes to be broadcast in all South African languages.

In the existing arrangement, where almost all children’s programmes are in English, most African children watch moving images that are not accompanied by intelligible sounds. This stunts their development 

So what is to be done?

In the short term we can: Insist that all our languages receive equal treatment on television and radio; Group some of the languages  If it were Sotho languages, for instance, you could still have Setswana, Sepedi and Sesotho as dialects. Then the pool of talent, resources and audience for material produced in the language would become larger 

We should learn English and other languages, but only after learning our own first.”

— Mosibudi Mangena (Deputy Minister of Education), Sunday Times, 22 September 2002.


“Important to note for the dissemination of information is that the second most popular programmes relate to radio and television news broadcasts and that people prefer these in their own languages. Thus the use of English mainly by government officials on TV is a practice which does not take into account the preferred language use of the public. Again, the attention of the appropriate authorities needs to be drawn to the fact that the use of English when discussing matters of importance implies a disregard for the majority of the population.”

From Pan South African Language Board, ‘Annexure B’, Guidelines for Language Planning and Policy Development, March 2001


Towards a Multilingual Public Broadcaster
(Contribution of the Taalsekretariaat and Tabema to the SABC Board Language Workshop on 29 November 2002)


A. Background

  1. The Taalsekretariaat is an independent, non-politically aligned organisation with its own administrative structure, staff and funding, which has as its mission the promotion of South Africa’s indigenous languages as adequate means of communication for both mother-tongue and non-mother-tongue speakers, within and beyond the borders of South Africa.[1]

    The Taalsekretariaat has initiated and supported several language projects, including the establishment of the Iilwimi Centre at the University of the Western Cape, which was recently awarded a multilingualism certificate by the Pan South African Language Board for their work in the fields of language learning and literacy training. The Taalsekretariaat was also represented at the SABC’s last language workshop, and co-authored a recent submission to the Portfolio Committee on Communications on the language aspects of the Broadcasting Amendment Bill of 2002.[2]

  2. Tabema (Taakgroep vir die Bemagtiging van Afrikaansgebruikers op Televisie) is an organisation committed to the achievement of an equitable, reasonable and affordable language dispensation on South African television, which takes account of the rights, aspirations, culture and geographical distribution of every language group in the country.[3]

    Since 1996, Tabema has made several submissions and held regular discussions with various role-players in the field of public broadcasting, including the SABC and the Portfolio Committee on Communications. In the latter connection, Tabema recently made a joint submission with the Taalsekretariaat on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill of 2002 (see above).

  3. Both organisations are aligned with the Multilingualism Action Group, a Western Cape-based group whose objective is to further and actively promote multilingualism in all spheres of South African life. The Group, which comprises several organisations working in the language field (including PRAESA, CALLSA, Iilwimi, the Xhosa Action Group, DEAFSA and the Vriende van Afrikaans), was started on the initiative of the Western Cape Language Committee, and will be officially launched in 2003.[4]


B. Basic Assumptions Regarding Public Broadcasting in a Multilingual Society

  1. The language demography of South Africa.

    1. According to the size of mother-tongue groups, our society consists (mainly) of 11 minority groups.

    2. According to the geographical distribution of languages, there is a definite concentration and dominance of specific languages in certain areas.

    3. As regards the understanding of languages in South Africa: According to demographic projections for 2001, based on the 1996 census, 93,4% of the population understand at least one language from one of the following groups, namely Nguni (20,5 million first-language users, ie 45,2%), Sotho (11,5 million first-language users, ie 25,4%), Afrikaans (6,4 million first-language users, ie 14,2%) and English (3,9 million first-language users, ie 8,6%). The smaller and non-cognate languages are spoken by 6,6% of the population. The percentage that understands one of the four main languages/language groups rises to 98% if one takes into account that a great number of mother-tongue speakers of all these languages understand one or more of the other languages as well. However, no single language is understood by the majority of South Africans. For instance, only about half of the total population understand English.

    These sociolinguistic facts are of special significance for the grouping of languages on different TV channels, and for meaningful and effective communication.

  1. The SABC has the technological infrastructure, knowledge and expertise at its disposal to make equity of languages at the level of broadcasting a practical reality.

  2. In terms of its mandate and the Constitution of South Africa, the SABC, in broadcasting to the public, does not require, and in fact cannot have, an “anchor language”. For the purpose of entertainment, information and education, and as far as the SABC’s functions and obligations are concerned, South Africa has 11 “anchor languages”.

  3. English is not the only lingua franca in South Africa.

  4. As a public broadcaster, the SABC fulfils an extremely important symbolic function, exerting as it does a tremendous influence on how South Africans view themselves, and are viewed by others, as a nation. Language is therefore not merely a practical matter of communication with viewers (important as that aspect is), but a decisive area in which the SABC should proudly reflect the rich diversity so characteristic of our society, and the central values of our Constitution, including the “parity of esteem” in which all our official languages should be held. The success of multilingualism in the broader society depends to a large extent on the example set by the SABC. As COSATU has stressed in its recent submission to the Portfolio Committee on Communications on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill of 2002, this vital public function may not be sacrificed on the altar of narrow commercial considerations, which by their very nature do not further the interests of the working class majority.


C. “Lessons Learnt About Language Policy Implementation at the SABC”

  1. In the light of the above assumptions, some grave mistakes should be included under the “lessons learnt about language policy implementation at the SABC”. Some of these mistakes can be rectified with immediate effect.

    Most important in this regard is that the SABC’s use of languages on all channels seems to convey the mistaken assumption that all South Africans understand English:

    1. The majority (70%) of broadcasts on all channels are in English.

    2. English is the only language for which an entire channel is exclusively reserved.

    3. Programmes in languages other than English are announced mostly in English.

    4. Subtitles, whether in news broadcasts or other programmes, are used to translate from other languages into English, but never the other way around.

    5. English content is used untranslated in non-English news broadcasts and other programmes.

    6. Afrikaans has been radically downscaled as a result of the misconception that it is a “white language”.

    7. The other indigenous languages continue to be severely neglected, despite the fact that they are spoken by the majority of South Africans.

    8. The SABC has a predominantly English “face”, shown by its presenters and programme hosts who function as public role models, and are in the main either English speaking or highly proficient in English, unlike the majority of South Africans.

  1. More positively, important lessons have been learnt from AMPS & AR figures, which reveal, inter alia, the following regarding the viewing and listening behaviour of South Africans (in line with viewers all over the world):

    1. South Africans prefer programmes in their mother tongue.

    2. If a programme is in their second language, they should be able to identify with it culturally and socially.

    3. Dubbing and/or subtitles are preferable to programmes in English with which people cannot associate/identify.

    4. The norm should be not only the language, but also the cultural content.

    5. The SABC should more consistently apply its own language principle of grouping cognate languages on the same channel. This is a universal principle underlying all user and communication-friendly public broadcasting.


D. “Key Priority Focus Areas that are Critical for Implementation of the Language Policy”

  1. The four largest languages/language groups should be used as the basis for a fair, equitable and affordable language dispensation for the SABC on its TV channels:

    1. Nguni languages

    2. Sotho languages

    3. Afrikaans

    4. English.

    This means that smaller languages, like xiTsonga and tshiVenda, would require special treatment as not being included in any of the four main groups, and that sign language would be spread across all four groups,[5] as would other indigenous languages, like the Khoi and San languages, and Indian languages.

  1. Cognate and culturally related languages/language groups should be grouped together to share the same TV channel. This would mean that:

    1. The Nguni and Sotho language groups should have one channel each, and

    2. Afrikaans and English should share a channel.

    This would eliminate unnecessary channel-hopping. It would also reflect more accurately the true language demography of the country, with the Nguni and Sotho languages spoken by the great majority of South Africans, and therefore entitled to the lion’s share of the available TV space.

    (We are aware that the grouping of Afrikaans and English on one channel is regarded by some as “politically objectionable”. This understandable objection is considered in the appendix to this document, where we also propose possible alternatives. Our primary concern is a more equitable distribution of air-time among the different languages. The precise grouping of languages is of secondary importance. However, we offer our proposal in the knowledge that the question of language grouping has repercussions for viewer loyalty and for the SABC’s advertising revenue.)

  1. A block-shared approach should be used for languages sharing the same channel. This could mean, for example, that one language could be accommodated in the late afternoon/early evening slot for three days per week, and the alternative language (for the same channel) be allocated the late evening slot on the same three days, and vice versa on the other three days of the week. The seventh day (which presumably would be Sunday) could have a mixed scheduling approach. Viewers should know beforehand what language programmes to expect during any specific time slot, and on which channel(s).

  2. A minimum guaranteed programme content per week for each of the four languages/language groups should be given by the SABC. Given the availability of three TV channels, as much as 30 hours per week in each of the four languages/language groups during peak viewing time is possible. According to statistics provided by the SABC, even during prime time English presently dominates all SABC TV channels: During the period April 2001 to March 2002, English occupied 70,6% of SABC 1, 47,9% of SABC 2 and 100% of the SABC 3 schedule. These figures are even higher than the corresponding figures for April 1999.

    It is proposed that, in the short term (to be attained within one year), the SABC should endeavour to guarantee 20 hours per week minimum in each of the four languages/language groups. (At present this would mean increasing the amount of Sotho and Afrikaans programming.) Eventually, a realistic goal of a minimum of 30 hours per week should be striven for in the long term (five years’ time). The languages not catered for, which receive little or no coverage at the moment, should also be guaranteed a minimum in the short term of (say) two hours per week.

  3. All the available technological capabilities to cater for a multilingual society should be exploited to the full in order to achieve the above guaranteed minimum programme content for each of the four languages/language groups. These include subtitles, dubbing, simulcast and transmitter separation.

    1. Subtitles: Of these, subtitles is the cheapest method, although a culture of subtitles (which is hardly used at present by the SABC, except to cater for the needs of English speakers) would have to be established by the SABC. In countries like the Netherlands and Israel, subtitles in a different language are used extensively to cater for multilingual needs.

    2. Simulcast: Simulcast (the use of multiple sound channels for the same video feed) is especially suitable for sports commentaries, and could utilise the FM network for alternative simultaneous sound channels.

    3. Transmitter separation: Transmitter separation (regional broadcasts) should take into consideration the language demography of South Africa and the fact that a number of indigenous languages are highly concentrated geographically. It could, for example, be used for the marginalised languages xiTsonga and tshiVenda, since both are, to a large extent, concentrated in specific geographic areas.


  1. Within the guaranteed minimum for each language/language group (above) an acceptable spread of programme categories (genres) should be covered for each language/language group, for example

    Programme genre

    Variety
    Music
    Religion
    Children
    Adult drama
    Youth drama/magazine
    Magazine
    News
    Actuality
    Educational

      Min hrs/week

    1
    1
    1
    3
    2
    0,5
    1
    2
    2
    2


    The modern trend in TV broadcasting world-wide is towards low-cost, custom-made, community-directed programmes.

    It is far more preferable to enjoy a low-cost discussion programme, using two TV cameras and a small studio, televised in a marginalised language, which is broadcast in the region where the language is dominant, than to have to tune in to a high-cost programme in another language which is not well understood.

  2. In order to help achieve the above objectives, we suggest that dubbing be reintroduced, and that programmes dubbed into indigenous languages again be counted, for the time being, as local content, until such time that sufficient local programmes in the indigenous languages are available. This would have the additional advantage of making the provision of international content in languages other than English possible, thereby broadening the horizons of South African viewers.

E. Conclusion: Towards
Language Equity on TV

  1. Tabema and the Taalsekretariaat are of the opinion that the SABC and other role-players have the infrastructure and capabilities to provide our society with a broadcasting service which would satisfy the diverse needs and tastes of our language and cultural communities. All that is required is the determination to implement further the existing language policy of the SABC (1995), and to apply the knowledge gained from studies and surveys of the listening and viewing habits of the SABC’s target audiences since the introduction of TV more than two decades ago.

  2. Since 1996, the proposals put forward here have been submitted at several levels to the SABC and also to the previous Independent Broadcasting Authority. As a result of the lack of continuity this has had few results. However, as in the case of the language issue at other levels of our society, solutions could easily be found in
    co-operation between the SABC and civil society formations.

  3. Finally, we propose that the SABC hold regular (eg annual) workshops on how language diversity could be implemented more effectively with the existing infrastructure and on the available TV channels. In this way, continuity in the planning of language policy implementation can be ensured. Such workshops should involve all relevant role-players (SABC, M-Net, eTV etc), the different language groups and cultural organisations and other civil society formations, like the trade unions, and should ideally be arranged in consultation with the Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB) and the Portfolio Committee on Communications as the constitutional and parliamentary bodies responsible for the promotion of multilingualism in public broadcasting. The focus should be the monitoring of language policy implementation, and practical solutions for overcoming the obstacles encountered in this area. Such workshops could be constituted as an official committee or working group of the SABC. The Taalsekretariaat and Tabema, with their wide network and database of organisations working in the field of multilingualism, would like to offer their co-operation in the planning of such workshops.


Signed by:

Mr Andre van der Walt (Taalsekretariaat)
Dr Gerrit Brand (Taalsekretariaat)
Prof JB (Koos) du Toit (Tabema)
Prof Christo Viljoen (Tabema)

* * *


Appendix: The Question of Language Grouping

In our contribution we suggest that Afrikaans and English be grouped together on a single channel. We are aware that this proposal is viewed by some as problematic.

Occasionally, an underlying assumption of this objection is that English and Afrikaans are “white languages” so that an English-Afrikaans channel would in effect be a “white channel” and, as such, reminiscent of apartheid. This is, however, inaccurate. The majority of Afrikaans-speaking South Africans are black, and many black South Africans are also English-speaking. Moreover, both English and Afrikaans have large (and roughly equal) numbers of non-mother-tongue users, and Afrikaans in particular has a very wide geographical spread. An English-Afrikaans channel would, therefore, draw a large number of black viewers, as is confirmed by AMPS and AR ratings over the years.

However, we recognise that, while the majority of (first and second-language) Afrikaans and English-speaking South Africans are black, it remains true that the majority of white South Africans have either Afrikaans or English as a home language. To the extent that the objection to an English-Afrikaans channel arises from the concern to expose South Africans in general, and white South Africans in particular, to other languages and cultures, it has some validity. Therefore, alternative language groupings should be seriously considered.

What should not be given up is the principle of language grouping per se, for the simple reason that, as we have pointed out (see C.2 and D.4 in the main document), viewers prefer to know what to expect on each channel in terms of language content, and because prospective advertisers would like to have some indication of the profile of the regular viewership of a particular channel. Language grouping is a means to avoid unnecessary “channel-hopping” and to maximise advertising revenue. As such, it is probably indispensable for the long-term viability of the SABC as a public broadcaster.

Most importantly, whatever language grouping is opted for, the principle of an equitable share of air-time for each language, also during peak viewing time (see D.5 in the main document), and an acceptable spread of programme categories (genres) for each language (see D.7 in the main document), should be regarded as non-negotiable.

Before we consider possible alternatives, some remarks on our motivation for proposing an English-Afrikaans channel (in addition to the Nguni and Sotho channels) may be in order:

  1. The Nguni and Sotho languages respectively cover such a large proportion of the population that, as we have stressed in the main document (see D.3), they are entitled to the lion’s share of the available air-time. Hence our suggestion that an entire channel be reserved for each of these language groups.

  2. The Nguni and Sotho channels would already have to accommodate several languages, namely, isiZulu, isiXhosa, siSwati and isiNdebele (Nguni), and Sepedi, Sesotho and Setswana (Sotho). If they were grouped together with English and Afrikaans respectively, the practical implication would be less air-time available to each of these Nguni and Sotho languages.

  3. Afrikaans and English, while not cognate to the same degree as are the Sotho and Nguni languages respectively, are nevertheless both Germanic languages. Moreover, the level of mutual comprehension between the two languages (as far as home-language users, black and white, are concerned), though not as high as is often supposed, is nevertheless considerable.

  4. The level of mutual comprehension between Afrikaans and Nguni/Sotho, and between English and Nguni/Sotho, is relatively low at present. This means that a grouping of Afrikaans and English with, say, Sotho and Nguni respectively, may give rise to unnecessary “channel-hopping”, thereby detracting from the channels’ “stickiness”. This may in turn result in viewer dissatisfaction and resistance on the part of prospective advertisers, as pointed out above.

  5. To group the Nguni and Sotho languages and Afrikaans into three channels (as might be suggested by the demographic preponderance of these three languages/language groups in South Africa), and spreading English across the different channels, is not a reasonable option, for two reasons. First, more than 8% of South Africans have English as a home language (compared to 6,6% for tshiVenda and xiTsonga together), and about 40% as a second language. As such, English is certainly entitled to a “home channel”, albeit a channel shared on a fixed basis with another language (an exclusively English channel is unacceptable; see C.1 in the main document). Second, to spread English across the different channels may well strengthen the misconception that English is the “common language” or sole lingua franca of South Africa, ie it may, paradoxically, bestow more prestige on English than on any of the other languages.

  6. The SABC had initially envisioned the grouping of non-cognate languages (eg Afrikaans and Sotho) on the same channel. Regrettably, this has resulted in the kinds of problems highlighted above (see point 4). Rather than pressing ahead with the policy despite these problems, the SABC has increasingly opted to “solve” the problem by allowing English to dominate all the channels — an approach that is not in line with the constitutional mandate and language policy of the SABC. The grouping of English and Afrikaans on one channel (and the Nguni and Sotho languages on one channel each) is to be preferred to this status quo, since it at least reflects more accurately the language demography of our society, and would be in line with the mandate and language policy of the SABC.

On the other hand, it could be argued — and we would be sympathetic to this perspective (see B.5 in the main document) — that commercial considerations should not dictate the language policy of the SABC as a public broadcaster, and that considerations relating to the public good, such as the mutual exposure of South African viewers’ cultures and the promotion of multilingualism, should be prioritised. This argument would count in favour of grouping English and Afrikaans with the Nguni and Sotho languages respectively. On this basis, some such grouping as the following could be considered:

  1. one channel for the Nguni languages and English

  2. one channel for the Sotho languages and Afrikaans, and

  3. one channel mainly for tshiVenda and xiTsonga, with time slots for other languages like the Khoi and San languages, Indian languages, Sign Language, etc.

The use of subtitles and simulcasts (see D.6 in the main document) could contribute to the viability of this option. For instance, on a Sotho-Afrikaans channel, programmes in the one language could consistently be translated into the other language, and vice versa, so that viewers who understand one of the two languages can follow all programmes on the channel. This would prevent unnecessary “channel-hopping”, and would provide prospective advertisers with a stable viewer profile for each channel.

Finally, if the SABC intends to proceed with the introduction of two new TV channels, as proposed in the recent Broadcasting Amendment Bill, the grouping of languages could be considerably simplified. Some such grouping as the following could then be considered:

  1. one channel for the Nguni languages

  2. one channel for the Sotho languages

  3. one channel for Afrikaans

  4. one channel for English, and

  5. one channel for tshiVenda, xiTsonga and the other languages (with fixed time slots for each language).

However, we would reject the suggestion that the two new channels be used for “local content” in the indigenous languages, while the status quo is retained on the existing three channels, since that would imply a continuation, and possibly even intensification, of the present dominance of English in public broadcasting. As such, it would not accord with the mandate and language policy of the SABC.


[1] The Taalsekretariaat’s contact details: 15 Herold Street, Stellenbosch 7600, e-mail: taal@linguasek.co.za, tel.: 021-887 2713 / 887 2736, fax: 021-887 2710, see www.mweb.co.za/litnet/taaldebat/vorige.asp.
[2] This submission can be read at www.mweb.co.za/litnet/taaldebat/tabema.asp.
[3] Tabema shares an office (and contact details) with the Taalsekretariaat.
[4] See the draft constitution at www.mweb.co.za/litnet/taaldebat/tk10.asp
[5] Note that subtitles do not really cater for the deaf, since the majority of the deaf in South Africa are illiterate, due to the special difficulties of learning to read a language other than sign language.


boontoe


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