The Press Systems of Zambia and South Africa after 1994.

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Research Essay                Pg /


Normative Press Theories and The Dark Continent:

The Press Systems of Zambia and South Africa after 1994
  1. Introduction

“Show me a government that is satisfied with its press, and I will show you an autocracy.

Show me a press that is satisfied with its government, and I will show you a lifeless and ill-informed people.” 

  • Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post, October 1996.

The following essay is an account of the orientation of the press system, found within the countries of South Africa and Zambia. Generally, the state of a countries press system varies with that of the countries government’s ideology. From the latter half of the twentieth century; these two countries undergo various and significant changes in their political systems, having a prominent effect on their respective press systems. Through a brief history; by examining the two countries press laws and analysing case studies; this essay will explore, define and compare each countries press system.

  1. The Normative Models
  1. Introduction

A definition which one should know, before reading on, is that of the normative press model. The normative press model defines what the role of the press is, in society. Fourie(2001: 269) declares that normative press theories are “concerned with the freedom, or restrictions on, the newspaper industry (media) in society”. There are four fundamental normative theories; the authoritarian theory, the libertarian theory, the social responsibility theory and the Soviet communist theory. A further two theories have evolved; the development theory and the democratic-participant theory. The following definitions touch on the normative press theories, which best describe the press of Zambia and South Africa.

  1. Authoritarianism Normative Press Theory

The origin of the authoritarian normative press theory is rooted back in the Renaissance times. Nobility and clergy, who had literary skills, were seen as the truth keepers. The invention of the press lead to the invention of newspapers, which were operated in a top-downwards manor, with the press being an agent of the government. Roelofse(1995: 50) quotes McQuail in saying that this theory [Authoritarianism]  explains systems in all counties where there is no true independence for journalists and where the latter are forced to submit to more or less absolute government control. He goes on to say that censorship and the punishment of those who deviate from external press policies/guidelines, which are usually politically/ideologically aligned.

“The theory is reflected in legislation, direct state control, enforceable codes of conduct, the use of taxation and other forms of economic sanctions, controlled import/export of foreign media material, the right of the government to appoint editorial staff, and so forth”.  Dictatorial states usually follow this type of press system, although a non-overtly totalitarian state have been known to use this press system too. A further characteristic is that the government is able to appoint editorial staff as it pleases and may punish journalists or those who deviate from government moral and political policy.

McQuil(1987: 85 - 86) declares the following characteristics or assumptions about the authoritarian press theory:

  1. The press should do nothing to undermine the vested power and interests of the government.
  2. The press should be subordinate to the vested power and authority of the government.
  3. The press should avoid acting in contravention of the prevailing moral and political values of the government.
  4. Censorship is justified in the application of those principles.
  5. Editorial attacks on the vested power and authority of the government; deviations from official policy and the violation of moral codes should be criminal offences.

Fourie(2001: 270) sums up the functions of the press under the authoritarian press theory as to “publicise and propagandise the governments ideology and actions”.

  1. Democratic-Participant Normative Press Theory

Democratic-participant theory, being a later addition to the normative press theory collection, is in fact a developed out of a reaction to the other existing normative press theories. This press system is adopted primarily in developed countries, where commercialisation, centralisation and large monopolies of mass media have been built up.

As the shift from a representative government to that of a participatory government occurs, so too does the media shift from representative to participatory. As mentioned by Roelofse(1995: 58) media tends more towards a direct and active participatory approach which is reflected in the “…development towards narrow-casting…the establishment of more local and community radio stations…in the developments like the World Wide Web and the internet”. Such developments were expected to meet media upliftment and democratisation but instead followed the monolithic, paternalism, elitism and professionalism aspirations of broadcasting organisations. According to Roelofse(1995: 59) this press system is highly “susceptible to both political and economic pressure”. A key point he goes on to mention is that the “participant” side of democratic-participant press theory maintains “that participation in political and social life is generally hindered rather than facilitated…Individuals and minorities have no realistic opportunity for participation in mass communication”.

The focus of the theory revolves around the needs, aspirations and rights of the active participant of the political society. Several rights are included; the right to react; to a means of communication and to relevant information. State-controlled media and uniform are rejected by this theory, while it favours the following;

  • Multiplicity/diversity of media.
  • Small-scale use of media.
  • Local nature of media.
  • Deinstitutionalising of media.
  • Reciprocal role of communicator and recipient.
  • Horizontal communication.
  • Interaction and involvement.

Terje Steinulfsson Skjerdal. “Dissertations - Responsible Watchdogs? Normative Theories of the Press...” University of Natal website. 2001. Available at

 12 April 2003.

Recipients would get the chance to access mass media tools and participate in the mass communication process. Underground/alternate press, pirate radio and political placards are feasible through new technology and the democratic-participant normative press theory.

  1. Conclusion

Now that the normative theories, pertinent to this particular project, have been defined, the next step is to evaluate the two African countries. As an introduction into each countries’ political system, a brief history will follow.

  1. A Brief History

  1. Introduction

The nature of a government will explain why certain press laws are passed and why that specific country has adopted a specific normative press theory. Between 1994 and 2003, Zambia and South Africa hold several elections, thus their governments either change or maintain, this is proportional to their press system - it either develops into a different normative nature, or it remains the same with smaller variations.

  1.  Zambian History

During the early 1990’s the Republic of Zambia was ruled through a dictatorship under the first president Kaunda and the United National Independence Party (UNIP). However a change in power ensued due to a coup, which was followed by elections, shifting the power in 1993, to the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party, which was lead by Frederick Chiluba. He promised democratic, transparent and accountable governance and was re-elected in 1996. The institution of democracy in Zambia marked Chiluba's 10-year reign. However the aftermath of this was rife with the deterioration of the political environment, difficult implementation of reforms and good governance issues. Strong political tensions resulted from Frederick Chiluba's idea of a third term of office. In April 2001, however, he officially announced his withdrawal from the presidential race and called upon the people to vote for Levy P. Mwsanawasa, who was elected in January 2002, during a controversial election. Columbia Electronic Encyclopaedia. ‘Zambia: History’. Infoplease website. 2003. Available at: . 16 April 2003.

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  1. South African History

South Africa was too, evolving out of the apartheid era. In 1994 “The ANC-led government proceeds to implement the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), adopted in as the basic policy framework guiding the transformation of the country” South African History Online. “Main Chronology”. South African History Online website. 2003. Available at:


15 April 2003. Negotiations were initiated by the ANC resulting in the first elections based on one-person-one vote. The ANC won these first historic elections with a vast majority. 62,6% of the more than 22 million votes cast were in favour of ...

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