Nurturing a multilingual dispensation : the ideological influence of SABC TV broadcasting policy and practice on the language attitudes of a predetermined sample population.
The purpose of this study was to determine the attitudes of a predetermined sample population of SABC TV viewers towards SABC’s language policies, and to identify and critically analyse the factors that influenced these attitudes by approaching the subject matter from a variety of methodological positions. This is an especially important undertaking when considering that the South African media landscape has for decades been the site of political, social and ideological confrontation, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) notwithstanding. Since operating as a mouthpiece for the National Party during the apartheid era, the role of the SABC in contemporary post-apartheid South Africa has come into sharp focus. The SABC’s role in South African society, allied to its status as a public service broadcaster, is significant in terms of encouraging nation-building and a unified national identity or cohesive national identities. Furthermore, the relationship between the public broadcaster and national policy makers is central to attaining goals such as linguistic parity in multilingual situations, such as in South Africa. For the SABC, what would be a difficult task under normal circumstances is made even more challenging when considering the numerous linguistically harmful legacies that remain after the apartheid period, where African languages were devalued and disempowered in the eyes of their speakers. The status of English as an international language, as well as the role that it played near the end of the apartheid era, would also come to be an obstacle in the path to the equitable treatment of South Africa’s eleven official languages. As such, this study aimed in part to determine whether SABC TV has embraced, or is perceived to have embraced, the ethos of the Constitution (Act 108 of 1996) and its own multilingual policies. More importantly, the main focus of this project was to ascertain the effect of SABC TV’s linguistic policy and practice decisions on the attitudinal dispositions of its viewing public, and to attempt to frame these language attitudes in terms of the ideologies operating within South Africa and the SABC. To achieve this, an assortment of complementary data-gathering techniques were arranged in a multi-method and triangulation approach to investigating the complex research problem. A historical analysis of South Africa’s and the SABC’s social, political, and media landscapes identified ideologically significant events from South Africa’s history, and these included the introduction of tangible linguistic and ideological boundaries between the African languages, the hegemony of English as a language of social and economic mobility and as the language of the indigenous African populations struggle against apartheid, speakers of African languages being placed in opposition to their own languages thanks to the misuse of mother tongue education, the association of Afrikaans with the apartheid state and the theoretical commitment of the democratic government and the SABC to fostering inclusive multilingualism. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of the SABC’s current language policy and language practices were also conducted. Whilst at face value SABC TV was seen to more or less meet the language delivery quotas stipulated by ICASA (a regulatory body) during the given period, further investigation determined that the manner in which the quotas were framed made it easy for the SABC to implement practicable strategies in implementing the multilingualism espoused by the Constitution (Act 108 of 1996). A survey and focus group interview were employed to investigate the language attitudes of the sample population in terms of the following themes: standardisation of languages (standard Sotho or Nguni), the efficiency of multilingual broadcasting in South Africa, the social and functional capability of African languages, the perceived positions of English and the African languages in South African society, and the role and responsibilities of the public broadcaster. The predetermined sample population comprised of mainly first language English and isiZulu speakers, and the linguistic attitudes between these two language groups were observed to significantly different on a number of key criteria, potentially due to those ideologically significant events uncovered with the historical description, as well as to the language policies and practices utilised by SABC TV. First language English speakers were neutral with regards to many of the issues surrounding the efforts of SABC TV at inclusive multilingual broadcasting, possibly influenced by the hegemony of English, as well as having a vested interest in maintaining the elite closure enjoyed by its speakers. Juxtaposed to the first language English speaking component of the sample population were the first language isiZulu speakers who exhibited much more of a loyalty towards their language, and towards the African languages in general. This study hopefully contributed in a small way to developing an understanding of the relationship between these speakers, as well as of their attitudes towards and expectations of language policies and practices at the level of both the SABC TV and government. By better understanding the intricacies of the complex and unique social milieu within it works, the SABC can be better equipped to formulate and execute policies and practices to best serve the needs of all South Africans.