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Andrew Kuper on the South African Media

Question: What is your experience in the media industry?


Andrew Kuper: My mother and I started a firm called Kuper Research that looked at sociopolitical and media search and strategies. And it was particularly interesting post-apartheid because the media was not very good to serving low income and the majority of the Black population.

Much of the kudos goes to Jos Kuper who saw profound opportunity in the South-African landscape where there was a very large group of people who were not reading but could read, in other words they were alliterate and this is South Africa’s problem, alliteracy not illiteracy.

And we were told all sorts of things, like there’s no culture of reading in Black homes, we’re told this by Black and White people and all sorts of other dubious propositions but that were widely held and we challenged that conventional wisdom. People were consuming media, they were consuming radio, we believe that globally people will consume newspapers and print media, if it’s in a form that makes it interesting for them. Why should people from African be different from anywhere else?

So, a visionary entrepreneur called Deon du Plessis developed a newspaper called The Daily Sun and we helped design that newspaper and The Daily Sun started where the first half is all tabloid and the second half is all knowledge skilling, how are you going to learn from a land bank, what is the interest on your money, how you deal with HIV, key knowledge practical skills. People buy the newspaper for the tabloid and they come back to the newspaper and become repeat consumers because of the profound impact it has on their lives and their ability to control their lives.

Amazingly, this newspaper is now the largest newspaper in Sub-Saharan Africa, in 5 years, it has gone from 0 to 500 million daily readers and two million of those were not reading before. So it’s actually had a macro effect on literacy in the country and Deon du Plessis and Jos Kuper I wade in a few ways but Deon du Plessis and Jos Kuper really are the heroes of this stories, that it had a profound impact on a lot of people and I believe it can be replicated globally.


Question: Why must the media ‘speak softly’?


Andrew Kuper: After apartheid ended in South African, many people believed that the media who have been fundamentally been in favor of the NC because it lead the liberation struggle should give the new government a little bit of a break, should not be too aggressive towards the new government, give them a chance to prove themselves but of course, this runs profoundly countered to some other tenets of journalism which is whoever’s in power hold them accountable and do it extremely firmly and don’t pull your punches which is a fundamental aspect of a successful and vibrant democracy.

And so we looked at what the South-African population thought and what the appropriate mix was in terms of; or approach for journalists to take and we found that it was not the kind of trade off that was posed in general in the media and when people speak colloquially, that in fact, the South-African population was extremely keen to have their media aggressively investigating, exposing, talking about etc. but it needed to be framed in a more general approach of we believe that the new government must be given a chance.

We believe that there is a fundamental effort being made here by the government to create an entirely social structure and economic regimen that includes the majority of the population, the Black majority. So as long as it is imbedded in a more understanding frame, you could be as intense and aggressive as you like, this is profoundly important in the year of Obama, of course, many, many people want to see the new president succeed in a world where there is a recession, where there are intense financial and political and military and all sort of other challenges.

So people want to support, certainly no one wants to; well, very few people want to see the failure of these attempts, we’d rather they succeeded, nonetheless, no one is going to agree with all of them and many of us agree/disagree with a few and many more disagree with many of the policies.

Now, as long as it’s embedded in a framework of we want them to succeed in general and we believe in many of the same ultimate values and finding those commonalities, I’m all for very intensive contestation and I think the South-African population, I think this is true of the United States as well really favors it.


Recorded on: May 1, 2009


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