A new study by research house Intellidex has found substantial black ownership of South Africa’s commercial media.

The study found that four of the biggest media operators are black controlled, including eTV, Multichoice, Times Media Group and Independent Newspapers. Several smaller operators also have a substantial black shareholding including Kagiso Media, Cape Town Radio and MSG Afrika.

The study examined the ownership of South Africa’s news media, based on share registers, black empowerment certificates and interviews with the companies concerned. It also considered the titles owned by the media companies and different audience sizes. Not all companies co-operated in the study.

Intellidex undertook the study to support debate around ownership of the media in SA. Given the media’s role in supporting democracy by providing the information needed to make informed decisions, ownership should be transparent.

The full research report can be downloaded here.

Intellidex chairman Stuart Theobald says the study aimed to address misconceptions about media ownership in SA. “You often hear comments about the SA media being controlled by just a few groups. The study shows that there is quite a diverse ownership structure in SA media, and the proportion of black ownership is often underappreciated.”

However, Theobald also pointed to some limitations of the study. “Despite it being a legal requirement of companies to disclose their shareholders, some still insist on confidentiality. In addition, the funding of shareholder deals restricts the exercising of the normal rights that ownership confers. Genuine ownership requires that shareholders are able to sell their stakes and exercise their voting rights. Often that’s not the case, particularly in the case of BEE shareholders.”

Theobald added that ownership is also not the only thing that matters. “Media ownership is nothing without an audience. And the study again highlights that the overwhelming reach of the SA Broadcasting Corporation makes it the key institution for conveying information to the public. Ownership in the private sector is important to understand, but from the point of view of promoting democratic values the relatively small audience limits its impact.”