Independent as it might be, the research conducted for the Eastern Cape Communication Forum (ECCF) at the end of 2014 is a distant cousin of the Baseline study of youth identity, the media and the public sphere in South Africa complied by Vanessa Malila (2013). Call it, if you will, the lovechild of ethnographic learnings and the contextualisation of a township audience.
The ECCF commissioned the research for the purpose of gaining data about the data usage of youth in the township. The data was used to aid the Media Literacy Workshops the organisation conducted in Joza, Grahamstown.
The quantitative ECCF study was much smaller than the Baseline research, which was funded by SANPAD, was a collaborative effort between multiple universities and researchers. This study was much smaller; funded by a humble Forum and focussed on the youth of Joza. The quantitative study distributed 100 questionnaires, which were split equally between male and female respondents. The findings are based on the 89 responses that were successfully captured.
Despite the differences in scale, the genealogy of the ECCF study is rooted to the Baseline study. The questions that formed part of the final survey for ECCF were based on the questions SANPAD study asked its 956 respondents across the country. Most of the SANPAD questions were modified to suit the particular goals of the Media Literacy Workshops, but they were a major guide and marker.
Therefore, it might be expected that the results from both studies to use display such close similarities, but the variations are also worth mentioning. Although the much more socioeconomically levelled Baseline study registered high use of radio among respondents with 70%, the ECCF results was not too far off at 60%. The interesting bit is the similarity of media preference due to class between the two studies; the Baseline Study found that unemployed youth favoured television and radio as sources of news much higher than any other media at 82%. The ECCF study, which was a survey a majority of youth from low income families, registered a high percentage of television usage at 90%.
A cautionary note to be gleaned from a sophisticated reading of the findings is that too rigid a focus on the high percentage of broadcast media could be limiting. What emerged from both studies is that social media also registered highly as a source of news and entertainment at 89% for the ECCF study. The Baseline study, which had a broader focus on search engines and the internet as a news sources, registered a relatively high figure of 68%. The difference between the two is that Baseline Study found that tertiary going and the well-resourced youth favoured the internet as a source of news, while the ECCF Study found high use among the under-resourced. The difference might be due to the fact that the ECCF study asked specifically about social media, hence the high percentage. The finding is still important because it points to the increasing relevance of internet and social media in the township media ecology.
When it comes to media issues, the studies demonstrate that youth in the township or those from government schools exhibit higher interest in education as a media topic than the youth in former Model C and private schools. Eighty four percent of the government school attending ECCF respondents reflected this interest at 76%, which is not too far off the from the Baseline study. Popular culture also remained a topic of great interest to young people, especially those attending former Model C and private schools with the Baseline study registering an 84% approval and the lower income ECCF respondents coming in at 70%. The inverse percentage for education and popular culture according to school attended between the two studies, although not great, is highly interesting. In connection to this ambiguity Malila (2013) argues “The interest in education as a media topic was significantly higher than those in ex-Model C or private schools (76.4%) and may have been strongly influenced by the difficulties that township and poorer schools have in accessing educational resources such as text-books, infrastructure and teachers”.
So what does this all mean? Context in the South African socioeconomic reality is key to developing our understanding of human interaction. Our identities, tastes, preferences, prejudices, choices and all other particularities of self are closely linked to our environments. John Fiske (1991: 51) writes about the same phenomenon but on television: “the intertextuality of the process of making sense and pleasure can only occur when people bring their different histories and subjectivities to the viewing process”. We bring our history to the sense making of everything; to all we encounter.
Therefore, scholarship of the future should begin to realise that broadcast media remain highly relevant to the daily life of young people from all backgrounds in South Africa, but these young people are changing with the time and so should our thinking. Research has to be adept to the fact that young people have taken to the social media like every other generation to a new media form. Our understandings of the use of different media by respondents; of intertextuality should be as fluid as our own varied use of different media on a daily basis. We should realise that our efforts are not to theorise of a people out there. This is not a theory of otherness but the theory of humanity; of us.
So, in the end it has to be stated that there is nothing new here folks, nothing to be seen; just two related studies pointing to the rigidity of understanding. Future scholarship will have to acknowledge the relation of all media: new media and traditional media in the milieu of intertextuality.
Malila, V. 2013. A baseline study of youth identity, the media and the public sphere in South Africa. Grahamstown: Rhodes University.
Fiske, J. 1991. Moments of Television: Neither the text nor audience. In Seiter, E. Borchers, H. Kreutzner, G. Warth, E. 1991(eds). Remote Control. London and New York: Routledge, pp 16-43.
Check out the link below for the baseline study compiled by Dr Vanessa Malila.