8 August 2018: The South African film and television industry has historically been a male-dominated business, with particularly poor representation of women behind the camera.
The sheer severity of the situation, however, has been brought into the spotlight by a recent report by women working in film and television in South Africa, which reveals that 78% of respondents feel discriminated against because of their gender.
One women who continues to break this status quo, however, is Karen Thorne, the Station Manager of Cape Town TV – South Africa’s first community TV channel. Thorne, who pioneered Cape Town TV since its inception, says her interest in television, as well as her fierce commitment to independent community-based media, is deeply rooted in the anti-apartheid movement which she joined as a journalism student at Rhodes University in the eighties.
In the nineties, Thorne worked for various organisations that were involved in crafting policy and laws aimed at fostering media diversity in the newly democratic South Africa. It was slow, frustrating work, says Thorne. She had always been convinced of the ability of television to empower the disadvantaged, but was constantly disappointed that community television always seemed to be overlooked and deprioritised by the local and national authorities.
But, says Thorne, “I learned patience”, and she and a group of organisations and volunteers set about mobilising community organisations to form a community TV station. The legal entity was established in July 2006 and in the period leading up to the launch the Cape Town TV Collective based their operation at Community House in Salt River.
Finally, in 2008, Cape Town TV was established with a grant from the newly formed Media Diversity and Development Agency. Thorne and five other staff members moved to a small office based at the AFDA film school in Observatory.
The fledgling station soon moved to a nearby beautiful old heritage building that used to be the old Lever Brothers headquarters in the Observatory Industrial Park, which belongs to Business Partners Limited. They have been renting it ever since and have expanded to two further units in the Business Partners Limited complex.
Gugu Mjadu, Executive General Manager: Marketing at Business Partners Limited, says that it is entrepreneurs like Thorne who have what it takes to bring about positive change within their industry. “Thorne’s unwavering commitment to independent community-based media has allowed her to have a prominent voice in the anti-apartheid movement, but at the same time, she has made progress in the struggle of achieving greater gender diversity in a male-dominated industry.
“We at Business Partners Limited are proud to have played a role in Thorne’s business journey and will continue to support her, and entrepreneurs like her, through business funding and guidance wherever possible,” says Mjadu. She acknowledges, however, that the next ten years will probably be just as challenging for Cape Town TV because of the disarray in which internet has plunged the traditional advertising model for the whole broadcast industry.
“But Cape Town TV will be facing its next decade with more confidence than ever. As part of Cape Town TV’s rebranding for its ten-year celebration, Business Partners Limited has granted its request to paint the building in bold, beautiful colours so that it becomes an icon and a beacon for community media in South Africa,” Mjadu concludes.