The impact of syndication

The use of English language audio clips had several impacts on the radio station and its audience. The main impacts identified include erosion of the station’s identity, the short-changing of listeners in terms of the quality of information and side-stepping the original mandate of indigenous African language radio stations. Ol, JI and J2 all agreed that, by broadcasting English audio clips, something is lost by Phalaphala FM. 01 said that they were worried about changes that were happening, particularly changes in the audience, and they feared that, one day, language usage would be 50-50 between Tshivenda and English. There was also apprehension about the possibility that ‘our audience, that is coming up now, don’t understand our language, also because of the education that they are receiving, they go to these multi-racial schools’ (Ol). This underscores the contradictions brought about by globalization, which are characterized by the euphoria of change as well as disillusionment and uncertainty.

Although J1 talked about the inevitability of change, there was apprehension that, by using English audio clips, Phalaphala FM was alienating the elderly and illiterate people who do not understand English. He had this to say:

For sure it’s already depriving its audience, the listeners of Phalaphala FM. If you check clearly, most of the listeners of that station are illiterate people, so it means that they understand nothing about the clips. When the clips are in English, because if there is no one interpreting what is being said, they don’t even understand what it is. So, it’s not a good thing, by the way.


This attests to the fact that some segments of the radio station’s audience are being alienated and possibly will be abandoned for a more lucrative and technologically savvy audience to boost the numbers.

Evidence from the pilot study also indicates that the use of English audio clips signified the domination of African languages in the media. The following statement is illustrative of this:

At first glance, it is an issue of power. It speaks to how untransformed the country' is, because primary English-speaking people are a minority. As one digs deeper, it then unmasks issues of dominance because the SABC cannot afford to send journalists/reporters of all the possible languages spoken in the Republic, in a foreign country like Sherwin Bryse-Pearce in Washington DC, USA; this means the English language is dominating the world and, therefore, our small languages are forced to bow down.


Use of English on indigenous language radio stations thus signifies power differentials around the globe whereby languages of the imperial powers have become the lingua franca. In the case of South Africa, such power is ubiquitous in all spheres of life - cultural, economic and social - thereby implying that English is the language of modernity' while African languages are perceived as languages of the past.


The intrusion of English language clips and soundbites on indigenous language radio stations has a disempowering effect on the development and promotion of indigenous African languages, particularly' minority languages. This is an indication that indigenous language radio stations are deviating from their constitutional mandate of ensuring that all languages enjoy equal treatment and parity of esteem. The use of untranslated English language clips on Phalaphala FM has resulted in airtime resen t'd for indigenous language programming diminishing, the consequence being that the radio station has the potential to lose its authentic

News syndication in South Africa 261 identity as an indigenous language radio station. The news pool system practiced by the state broadcaster, SABC, has indirectly promoted the hegemony of the English language. This hegemony is masked through contestable journalistic professional norms, such as the need for credibility, commercial forces and dynamics in the broadcasting industry and society at large. This chapter made a distinction between content syndication as merely a business strategy from syndication as a hegemonic tool. Future studies could incorporate a survey component to capture the voices of indigenous language radio station listeners. A comparative approach encompassing different SABC indigenous language radio stations from different provinces could also broaden insights on the impact of news syndication on indigenous language broadcasting.


  • 1 Tshivenda is one of the African languages spoken in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. The number of Tshivenda speakers is estimated to be about 1.2 million (Banguela Language Company 2016).
  • 2 The article in question was an edited excerpt from a detailed and longer report by the author published after the Communications Law Centre Conference in Australia in February 1993.
  • 3 Tshivenda, or Venda, is one of South Africa’s eleven official languages spoken in the northern part of the country’s Limpopo Province. According to the 2011 census, it is spoken by about 1.3 million people.
  • 4 Two of the interviews were face-to-face and one was over the telephone.
  • 5 This stands for ‘Official 1 ’ (an SABC official).
  • 6 It could not be established with certainty when the practice of not voicing over was stopped.
  • 7 12 represents ‘journalist number 2’, who gathers news for SABC stations including Phalaphala FM.
  • 8 IsiZulu is one of the main languages spoken in South Africa. It is spoken by about 12 million people.
  • 9 J1 represents a presenter on Phalaphala FM.
  • 10 A shift is 8 hours long.
  • 11 This is another SABC radio station that broadcasts in isiZulu, one of the indigenous languages in South Africa spoken by the majority.


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