By Bahle Gama
Radio is a powerful means of communication and can reach millions of people while not disturbing their routines. One can easily consume the content of radio stations while engaging in other activities.
But the need to have access to spectrums provides several challenges and comes at huge costs. To mitigate that, the world has seen an increase in the use of online stations and Podcasts. Globally, there are currently over 2.4 million podcasts with over 66 million episodes between them.
Throughout the world, Podcasters have started to shape narratives and conversations being had daily. One of the most topical Podcasters has been South Africa’s MacG who has stirred controversy through the conversation with some of his guests. His show has proved the power that Podcasts have and the monetary value attributed to them.
Eswatini has not been left behind in the boom. The country is estimated to have about 200 podcasters who use different platforms like Spotify, Twitter, and YouTube to share and distribute their content. These include the Openwork Podcast, Tea Podcast, Eswatini Chillout, Eswatini Property Review, SaltyMic Podcast, and Thirty-Five Entertainment to name a few.
Interviewed podcasters shared similar reasons and visions behind the creation of their podcasts, most of which were established during the Covid-19 pandemic-imposed lockdowns.
“Radio content tends to focus more on trending topics and newsworthy events than on evergreen themes. A podcast is a pre-recorded show that listeners stream at their convenience or download to listen to later. Podcast hosts choose a topic to focus on, record the audio, and then edit before publishing,” said one podcaster.
Tea Podcast founder Sonkhe Dlamini said the podcast was established in 2020 during the lockdown when he saw a shortage of local content having noted limited information from the local radio stations.
“Having noted the shortage of content, especially that accommodates young people from our local radio stations, we came up with the podcast,” he said.
Dlamini clarified that at the time the world was in a panic mode and there was a need to unwind and keep the mind distracted from what was ongoing at the time, hence the podcast. Tea Podcast is currently found on YouTube as part of a channel called TFE Network with over 1 000 subscribers and has been running for six seasons, intending to grow the industry by introducing different creatives of Eswatini, known and still upcoming.
“We get to talk to the artists as well as people who were in attendance at the event,” he said.
Like radio stations, these podcasters also offer branding and content creation services for creatives.
“The main aim is to share the information amongst creatives who don’t know how to go about in this industry as we don’t have mentors and people who know how these things are done. We also give strategies to our guests on how they can grow their brands as well as being unique and having a unique product,” said another.
Through the platform, podcasters in Eswatini also believe upcoming creatives can avoid being exploited resulting in stunted growth and not getting their money’s worth. As a result, the Tea podcast premiers an episode every Monday and ensures that every guest gets to promote themselves and always shares information beneficial to emaSwati, depending on the topic to be discussed on the day.
Many of the interviewed podcasters share similar visions which include featuring Swati-based content in terms of movies, stories, music, skits, mental health, and promoting local products and brands, with the intent of accommodating every local business idea, big or small.
“The plan is to give subscribers and listeners content that they can relate to daily and also be able to access and refer to at any time and further give feedback,” said another.
But unlike mainstream radio where one has a license and needs to adhere to a set code of conduct and ethics, podcasts have caught many countries and their regulators off-guard. Responding to questions about the regulation of podcasts in the country, the Eswatini Communications Commission (ESCCOM) CEO Mvilawemphi Dlamini said there is currently no regulatory instrument that gives them the power to regulate online stations and podcasts.
“The ESCCOM Act of 2013 makes no reference to online broadcasting activity and as such, the Commission has no mandate over the content and platform choice of such broadcasters,” said the CEO.
Currently, no new radio licenses are being issued in the country and the CEO clarified that this will only be considered when the Broadcasting Bill becomes law.
“It is the Broadcasting Act and its associated Regulations that will provide for the licensing procedures. The Draft Broadcasting Bill was passed by Senate in September and the Commission believes that it will soon be promulgated into law,” he said.
This means until such has happened, creatives will have to turn to new-age media to showcase their talents and abilities.
However, the podcast space is not a blank canvas. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), podcasts are not regulated because they are not broadcast on radio, however, they must follow laws that ensure they inform their audience if they are being paid to review products or not.