Uneven liberalisation in Southern Africa: convergence and democracy in communications policy.
Javnost-The Public, 6(3) pp. 101–114.
Technological convergence between telecommunications, broadcasting and computing has become a central object of communications policy initiatives worldwide. This paper explores the implications of the associated shift towards prioritising industrial and competition policy imperatives over those of cultural policy in the context of processes of democratisation in Southern Africa during the 1990s. It examines the institutional mechanisms by which national regulatory regimes have been adjusted according to the dictates of market liberalisation promoted by international agencies (including the WTO, IMF, and World Bank), and mediated by regionally-based agencies (such as the Southern African Development Community). The paper explores the emerging tension between two philosophies of regulatory independence: a market liberal approach which prioritises transparency and independence as a condition of attracting inward foreign investment, and which endeavours to shield communications regulation from democratic oversight; and a radical democratic approach, which privileges the role of communications in the cultivation of freedom of expression and the extension of political participation, in which regulatory bodies are seen as necessarily independent of direct government control but remain responsive to pressures from civil society. The contested politics of regulatory convergence in Southern Africa are illustrated by reference to recent changes in regulatory policy in South Africa, and the extent to which the South African experience is being generalised through structures of regional governance is critically examined.
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