Since the inception of broadcasting, religions and churches have used radio and television to advance their own theological perspectives. This has not been a uniform process and the nature of religious broadcasting varies from country to country, depending on commitments to commercial or public service broadcasting principles, the internal make-up of religious communities and the political commitments of the broadcasters to reflecting social conditions.
Apartheid led to the distortion of PBS broadcasting on the level of policy, staffing and financing. This effected religious programming as extensively as any other genre. In order to redress past and present imbalances it is important to keep the varying objectives of religions and the broadcaster in mind. Generally religions wish to broadcast to address the religious needs of their established community and to fulfil their prophetic and proselytising functions.
A public service broadcaster, in contrast, transmits religious prgramming to address:
a) a diversity of religious needs; and
b) to facilitate the process of religious and cultural tolerance and understanding.
The goals of religious institutions and PSB overlap only in part. A model must therefore be found which encompasses as much of these two objectives as possible. The model should:
a) give representative control of theological issues to churches and religions for meditational and worship programmes; while
b) still giving the broadcaster some control over documentary and actuality programmes in order to protect diversity and to address the religious needs of those outside formal religions.
RELIGION IN SOUTH AFRICA - FORMAL AND INFORMAL
Religion does not function uniformly in any society. In South Africa, the heterogeneity of religious forms of life and religious expression are extreme.
The 1991 census figures suggest that out of a population of roughly thirty-one million people, 66.5% define themselves as Christian, 1% as Islamic, 1.2% as Hindu, 0.2% as Jewish, and 30.9% have no religion or refused to specify in the census what their religious beliefs were.
These statistics are not unproblematic. The 1992/93 Race Relations Survey estimates that there are about 39 million South Africans, and many development agencies argue that there are at least 35 million people in this country. The census figures should therefore be used as an indication of the diversity rather than an accurate representation of religious belief. While South Africa seems to be dominantly Christian, a significant part of the population entertains alternative religious views. Furthermore, the plural category of Christianity does not reflect a unified theological or political grouping. Broadcasting policy for religious programming must therefore reflect this diversity and make space for contradiction and debate.
MEDIA USE AND PRACTICES
Historically, the form of programming that explicitly draws a relationship between itself and the supernatural, the form we normally call religious television, can be divided into three parts. The first of these is sustained time broadcasting which is religious broadcasting by mainstream churches provided without charge by a public service broadcaster. Such is the form of programming broadcast by the religious department of the SABC. Secondly, there is paid time broadcasting, where specific churches or groupings purchase commercial air time for their own broadcasts. This is the dominant form of religious broadcasting in the United States and has thus far been mostly characterised by a fundamentalist, new right theological perspective. In South Africa, Rhema's Christian Television (CTV) on TSS (now NNTV) is an example of this category. Thirdly, mystical therapeutic broadcasting denies an explicit relationship with religion, but is seen to satisfy the spiritual needs of its viewers or fulfil a religious function.
Amongst this final category, analysts locate programmes that deal with self-help, therapy, soft sciences and even the environment. This final category has never been seen as religious programming in South Africa and seems to be part of the result of a growing awareness of the transcendental aspects of television viewing as a whole. This awareness springs out of a reworking of the concept of `leisure'.
One of the direct implications of a broader religious function of television is that formal mainstream churches' claims to sole jurisdiction over the religious content of a public broadcaster becomes problematic. If a public service broadcaster is in fact serving some of the religious needs of a diversity of people, some of whom claim no explicit religious affiliation, then that broadcaster should not abdicate all its responsibility to mainline churches. It becomes essential for the public broadcaster to acknowledge a duty to serve the religious needs of those outside formal religion.
PROTECTION OF DIVERSITY
Protection of diversity will be both difficult and controversial. Religion and politics are unavoidably inseparable. Churches make it absolutely clear that prophesying and advising is one of their chief functions. Furthermore, it is a function they wish to exercise with unrestricted editorial freedom if given access to broadcast time (SACC proposals for religious broadcasting). Even when not giving explicitly political commentary, the world view of any religion necessarily bears some relation to, and commentary on, its soci-political moment.
SABC - CURRENT POLICY AND STRUCTURE
The SABC's religious broadcasting department forms part of `Television News Productions' (TNP). This business unit is commissioned to produce 2 hours of religious broadcasts a week per channel in accordance with its mandate from the SABC board.
2.DETAILS OF FINANCING
Funding comes primarily from licence fees and cross-subsidisation as sponsorship for religious programmes is minimal, although religious music and children's programmes have shown some revenue earning potential. A SABC board prohibition exists for the sale of advertising for religious programmes.
The TV Religious Department works on an annual budget of R14 million (1993 financial year). The TNP business unit negotiates this figure on a yearly basis with the three channels. This figure currently finances 180 minutes of religious programming a week for both TV1 and CCV and approximately half that amount for TSS/NNTV.
On average, religious programming costs R1 118.00 a minute on TV1 and R1 005.00 a minute on CCV. The figures for TSS/NNTV are not available.
Religious programming is being funded through cross-subsidisation and licence fee allocations due to the theological and practical difficulties surrounding the use of advertising in these programmes. It has, in the past, proved possible to sell advertising for gospel music and religious children's programmes. The level of this advertising however could never be expected to offset the cost of religious broadcasting, and a system of subsidisation by either the broadcaster or the churches will always be necessary.
The issue of a local programming content requirement in South Africa has been rigorously debated. Arguments surrounding this topic pertain to all genres of programming, including religious broadcasts.
South African society reflects a diversity of religious beliefs and forms of life, yet apartheid and its attendant segmentation of society has limited widespread understanding and tolerance of these beliefs. Documentaries on religion could address this need especially if they draw on, "a plurality of programmes produced from a diverse range of production sources". The supporting argument for this is that the diversification of production source will ensure the representation of a diversity of belief and practice.
This desired diversification for religious broadcasting can be achieved in several ways:
a) through giving churches and religions the theological control they wish to exercise over worship and meditation programmes; and
b) through commissioning documentaries and other non-worship programmes from a diversity of production sources such as the churches themselves (some of whom have production facilities) and the independent sector.
Although the SABC's Religious Department does not have a minimum local content requirement at present, the vast majority of the programmes broadcast are local. This is commendable considering that American evangelical programmes can be broadcast free of charge, yet in itself a high level of local content has thus far failed to provide a representative reflection of South African religious life.
The current practice of favouring local productions should be protected and expanded. A minimum local content requirement figure of 80% has been advanced by African Christian Television (ACTV). This appears to be a realisable objective considering that the vast majority of meditational and worship programmes will be local. Local content requirements must however also be coupled to a commitment to a diversity of sources as this will foster religious and cultural tolerance.
2.Distribution Across Channels
Both TV1 and CCV purchase approximately 180 min of programmes a week from TNP (Religious Department), while TSS/NNTV buys about half that amount. This time allocation compares favourably with international practices
3. Existing Policy
SABC's Religious Department now claims to have suspended its standing policy (SABC Board, 4th October 1992) and is presently operating in accordance with the Jabulani Recommendations for religious broadcasting. This recent adoption of the Jabulani principles as policy still remains at the level of commitment, and programming content remains largely unchanged. However, unilateral restructuring at this stage will benefit neither the broadcaster, the audience nor religious groupings. It is imperative therefore that a process of consultation be more fully adopted.
1. Commissioning Policy
The SABC's division of its production services and channels into discrete business units and the corresponding emphasis on profitability and target audiences holds several implications for religious broadcasting. The commissioning of religious programmes according to a commercial ethic will frustrate the attainment of public service objectives. Divisions and differences in South Africa's religious life are strongly related to the country's political and economic history. Commercialization does nothing to redress past imbalances in programming as socially and economically advantaged groups have until now been the primary target of the SABC's Religion Department.
2.In House/External Productions
All local religious programmes are produced internally by the Religious Department's own producers, who are linked to TNP. This works against the public service objective of protection of diversity of sources. For this reason a cost effective way of including independent producers should be sought. If religions are given theological freedom over worship, or if they prefer, reflective programmes, then it is mainly on the level of documentary and actuality programming that independent producers need to be consciously included. Chuches who have there own production facilities, or who wish to use independent producers should be given the freedom to do so.
The SABC does not have a formal religious advisory board, but it does have discussion groups with Christian church representatives for both radio and television. These discussion groups have been organised according to language groups and follow a typical apartheid rationale; a Zulu group in Natal for Radio Zulu, a Xhosa group in the Eastern Cape for Radio Xhosa etc.
In 1993, the SABC initiated discussion groups with non-Christian religions who have a membership in excess of 100 000. According to the SABC this means that Hindu, Islamic and Jewish representatives will now be consulted.
A RELIGIOUS FORUM FOR CONSULTATION AND ACCESS
The SABC has made a submission to churches regarding the creation of a religious forum. Such a forum had previously been called for by the SACC in order that churches gain greater theological control over religious broadcasts (see SACC proposals in main research paper).
It is indeed essential that such a forum be established if the SABC is to reflect the religious diversity of South Africa. Furthermore, the SABC has no principled basis for acting as a theological judge when broadcasting the viewpoints of various religions and denominations. However, the commercial structure of TV1 and CCV conflict with greater church control over religious broadcasting. According to their commercial objectives, these channels want full control over their "product" in order to maximise their "target" audience and subsequently their advertising revenue.
The SABC and the churches need to address the contradiction between commercial and PSB objectives together. There should be no confusion as to the differences in the role of a national broadcaster and the role of a church. The overall structure and objectives of the SABC will, to a large degree, determine the limits of religious broadcasting. If the SABC moves to reduce its reliance on commercial advertising and increases its emphasis on public service objectives it will be in a position to give more comprehensive coverage to all churches.
ACTUALITY, DOCUMENTARY AND ARGUMENTATIVE PROGRAMMING
Religious topics can be approached from both religious and secular perspectives, as indeed can secular topics. Any approach from a religious perspective should originate from religious groups or churches. This applies especially to worship and meditation programmes, where religions should control the theological perspective and hence have full editorial control of programmes. It is important that SABC push ahead and create a structure whereby such control will be facilitated. Participation should not only be welcome, but encouraged. This applies especially to groups which have as yet had limited or no input into religious broadcasting, most notably black independent churches (which make up the largest faith group in the country) and non-Christian religions.
The SACC proposal regarding the creation of a forum for religious broadcasting could well provide the structure whereby churches could gain control of meditational and worship programmes. All church groups and religions should however be able to participate in determining the structure and processes of such a forum. Obviously the structure of such a forum will be partly determined by decisions about the structure of the national broadcaster. If SABC is transformed to include more regional and community broadcasting then the churches and religions of regions should be accommodated according to that structure.
SABC should not merely become a production house for religious groupings. It must retain the responsibility of addressing some of the religious needs of viewers outside formal religious groupings (as much as 30% of the population) as well as controlling actuality programmes about religion. Actuality programmes should be commissioned and produced in consultation with the religious forum, but due to the need for some argumentative programming, editorial control of non-ministry programming should remain with the public broadcaster. This model has been advocated in other parts of the world, and is a result of a growing awareness of the complexity of ways in which television addresses the religious needs of people. EDITORIAL CONSTRAINTS
Due to the sensitive nature of religion, many normative limitations are often placed on religious programmes. Previous SABC policy (see above) prohibited coverage of controversial issues. Internationally, many public broadcasters have controls over proselytising during broadcasts. However, given the diverse nature of South African religious life, it would be advisable that such restraints be avoided, as they would be difficult to enforce and would result in bland uniform programming. Beyond a prohibition on dealing with matters sub judice (pending legal judgement) and a principled commitment to deal with religious beliefs in a positive rather than negative way (ie. to expound on the specific content of religious belief rather than to attack other religions), such constraints should not be adopted.
RACE, GENDER, SEXUALITY AND THE SECULAR STATE
The interim constitution for South Africa, which comes into effect after the April elections, protects people against discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexuality. Historically, however, religions have been used to justify, and encourage racism, sexism, and homophobia. A potential conflict exists between religions determined to fulfil their prophetic mission in this regard and the secular state bent on protecting the values of its constitution.
Although it would be certainly theoretically possible to prohibit discriminatory comments, this would be difficult to enforce and could adversely effect comprehensive participation in religious broadcasting. An alternative would be to incorporate, when necessary, the PSB principle of "right to reply" into the practices of the Religious Department.
The principle of right to reply should be applied to religious broadcasting in addition to news and actuality programmes. This is a necessary responsibility attached to the theological freedom the churches desire, but it will certainly not be easy to enforce as religions continually posit gender, sexuality, and to a lesser degree, racial stereotypes as normative standards connected with their religious world views. The national broadcaster should be used to inform and create understanding, and not to disempower already disadvantaged and marginalised sections of South African society. Both the broadcaster and religious groups should be sensitive to these issues, and mechanisms for conflict resolution should be thought out.
A specific model for religious broadcasting must necessarily cohere with the overall commitments and structure of PSB as well as satisfying the demands of major churches and religions. The details of such a model should be worked out in consultation. It is recommended however that policy emerging from such a process should contain the following:
* a commitment to represent the diversity of religious beliefs in South Africa
* protection of democratic access and editorial freedom for churches and religions to broadcast meditation and worship programmes
* a commitment by the broadcaster to address the needs of those on the fringe of formal religions.
* Use of the production facilities owned a) by religious institutions; and b) independent producers for the making of programmes.
Media and Culture Research Unit
Centre for Cultural and Media Studies
University of Natal