Transforming State Owned Enterprises in the Global Age: Lessons From Broadcasting and Telecommunications in South Africa

  • Ruth Teer-Tomaselli UNESCO/Orbicom


The study documents and analyzes the restructuring and transformation of South African broadcasting and telecommunications sector, in the light of two parallel trends:

· The globally-apparent challenges to the sector; and

· The impact of the neo-liberal agenda on the part of the South African government towards the ‘structuring' of state-owned enterprises.

The ‘crises' in public broadcasting and telecommunications sectors internationally are well documented. Globalisation, technological advances including digitalisation, convergence of both platforms and content, extreme financial constraint, and the attendant processes accompanying them are usually cited as the mainsprings of the predicament. In South Africa there is the added complication of political and social restructuring, following a change of government and the movement towards transformation from 1994.

In the era of globalisation, the nation-state, far from becoming irrelevant, has become a key player in driving the project of neoliberalism, reform and restructuring. To meet the challenges of the global economy, ‘neo-liberal' governments, including South Africa, have pursued a dual strategy of both rolling back the state, while being more centralised and directive. Typically, the state has restructured itself by concentrating on those departments most closely connected to the global economy, particularly those attached to Departments of finance and trade. At the second level, ‘state assets' are reassessed in the light of their potential for self-sustenance, or even commercial profit. Public utilities, such as telecommunications and broadcasting, power supply and public transport, are particularly susceptible to ‘restructuring', ‘commercialisation' and ‘privatisation'. South African ‘State Owned Enterprises' provide a salient case in point.

The public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), and the public telecommunications provider, Telkom, have been undergoing various moves towards both transformation and restructuring since 1993. Some of these changes are in line with similar movements in broadcasters and telecoms throughout the world, including adjustments to the management structures and more efficient approaches to business; while others are directed towards satisfying the social and economic imperatives of a changing society, specifically the almost revolutionary change in content and programming.

Critical Arts Vol.18(1) 2004: 8-41

Author Biography

Ruth Teer-Tomaselli, UNESCO/Orbicom
Ruth Teer-Tomaselli is the Chair of Communications for UNESCO/Orbicom, a global Network of disciplinary Chairs, including 23 in Communications. She is Programme Director of Culture, Communication and Media Studies, Un iversity of KwaZulu Natal. She is also Vice-President of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR). She has published internationally, notably on issues relating to broadcasting in South Africa. She serves on the editorial boards of Journal of International Communication, Feminist Media Studies, Ecquid Novi: South African Journal for Journalism Research, and Critical Arts: a journal of South-North Cultural and Media Studies.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-004