Moments of Nationhood

My Doctoral thesis: Moments of Nationhood. The SABC News in English – The first decade of Democracy

The thesis examines the television news produced by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in the ten years from Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994. It does so by means of qualitative and quantitative analysis of television news output, backed up by an extensive programme of newsroom observation and interviewing of key executives and professionals involved with the SABC during that decade.

The focal point is the structure and content of the news stories in light of the processes of change affecting the institution that produced them. Various approaches are covered focusing on discourse structures of the news, enunciation, textual strategies and aesthetics, representation, the institution and its news production.

The thesis argues that common assessments of public service broadcasting are inapplicable to complex and rapidly changing multi-cultural societies like South Africa, and the traditional defence of such broadcasting systems may underestimate the benefits of alternative structures. The SABC news, it is suggested, provides particular constructions of the nation and nationhood, and these are both detectible in routine coverage as well as celebrated in set piece news about such events as elections and presidential inaugurations. The news is also a custodian and manufacturer of memory and history in a nation whose identity is dynamic and contested.

The development, transformation and change within the SABC from 1994 to 2004 clearly show that social transformation was not a linear process. In the first phase of transition to democracy the SABC responded rather enthusiastically to the new democratic openings and prospects. As the consolidation of democracy increasingly developed the SABC’s challenges lay in expanding its democratic role by strengthening its independent and critical position both in relation to the government and the market.

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