September 18, 2004, was such a day in the history of the press in South Africa. Within ten minutes an association that was established 71 years before to unite the community press in South Africa, was disbanded.
In 1909 Oscar Henry Frewin, who is regarded as the Father of the Community Press, already started working towards the creation of a Rural Press Division of the Press Union at an informal gathering at the Victoria Hotel in Johannesburg.
While the meeting itself did not result in the establishment of such a division, the Cape Press Association (CPA) invited Frewin to join them.
At the twelfth congress of the CPA in Cradock in January 1910, delegates moved towards creating a more representative body.
On August 12, 1912, a meeting was scheduled in the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg for all of South Africa’s members of the press. The meeting was preceded by a meeting in Cape Town with the vision of better cooperation between the then four provinces in the country.
At the 13th congress of the CPA on October 15, 1912 in Bloemfontein, the name South African National Press Union was accepted. This was regarded the biggest assembly of the press in the country ever. It was also the first representative national organisation of the press in South Africa.
In spite of all of Frewin’s attempts, an independent Provincial Press Division of the Press Union was only established in 1933. He was chairperson for 25 years and the Frewin trophy, a coveted prize for mainstream papers, was named after him.
The Provincial Press Division’s name was later changed to the Local Press Division and was known as the Community Press Association (CPA) in later years.
From the CPA the Forum of Community Journalists was born as a sub-committee in 1990, with the main purpose to promote and expand the interests of community journalists.
The first committee members were chairperson Frans Aucamp (Vista) and Tobie van den Bergh (Middelburg Observer), Riaan Gerber (Eikestadnuus) and Reg Anthony (Zululand Observer).
When the country’s major newspaper groups, Media24, Independent and Caxton withdrew from the CPA in 2004 because their interests were already represented at Nasa (Newspaper Association of South Africa), the death bell knelled for the 71-year-old organisation.
At the Annual General Meeting on September 18, 2005 at Muldersdrift, the CPA was disbanded and a new organisation, the Association of Independent Publishers, came in to being. This association aims to represent independent and ‘grassroots’ publishers.
In a historical move, at its Annual General Meeting the Forum of Community Journalists decided to continue to exist as an independent voluntary organisation. A hundred delegates attended this meeting.
To be as influential as possible, a decision was also taken to serve on the Nasa Sub-Committee for the Community Press. The FCJ already has a board seat at the Association for Independent Publishers.
As founder member of the Press Ombudsman, the FCJ is also represented there.
The FCJ management committee plans to strengthen ties with Sanef (South African National Editors’ Forum).
Earlier this year, the FCJ decided to convert the organization into a Section 21 company, mainly due to the looming cessation of the PDMSA and also to give the FCJ more clout in the industry.