Monday, October 31, 2016
The SABC tells the broadcasting regulator, Icasa, that like free-to-air broadcaster e.tv, it now also wants to cut back on its public responsibility of doing TV news during prime time.
The South African public broadcaster apparently now also wants to cut back on its very raison d'être - it's very core mandate for existing - and wants to follow free-to-air broadcaster e.tv in getting rid of the onerous public responsibility of proving South African television viewers with TV news during prime time.
It's pathetic - but more than that, its ridiculous and dangerous.
South Africa is a democracy. Television is the biggest and strongest medium. TV news helps to build and maintain a democracy, give voice to a plurality of opinions, and informs.
Literally tens of millions of South African TV viewers work and can only watch TV news on free-to air channels like the SABC and e.tv (and they do in their millions) during the evening, when they get home, in what is known as prime time.
Similar to e.tv's application at the broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), wanting to dump the regulations in its broadcasting licence to provide millions of viewers with a TV news bulletin during prime time - the SABC now apparently also wants out.
It's just like a child who promises to eat his vegetables if he gets a treat; then afterwards refuses.
You can't change the conditions after getting a powerful thing like a TV broadcasting licence and neither e.tv nor the SABC should be allowed changes to their existing licensing conditions.
It's preposterous and dangerous.
Imagine a mine consortium, after it got a licence, saying it no longer wants to pay to clean the surrounding water and do environmental rehabilitation as part of its cost to do business and to exist as a business in the first place.
e.tv (yes, Midi!) conveniently forgets that it applied with several other consortiums to get a TV broadcasting licence almost 20 years ago, and made certain promises to get that licence.
e.tv got its licence because it made bigger and better promises than the others. That's why it got the licence. Now e.tv wants to backtrack.
Years after it got its licence, and feeling that the licensing conditions are no longer suitable, e.tv that once cared for news and doing news, now wants it changed.
Meanwhile the SABC - as a tax payer and mandated SABC TV licence fee funded public broadcaster that belongs to the South African people - conveniently forgets that its a public broadcaster with a public mandate to not broadcast The Real Housewives of Atlanta but to inform the South African public.
Yes. News makes less money.
Yes. News is actually often a drain on revenues instead of being a profit centre.
Yes. News gets less viewers during prime time than a purely entertainment show.
Yes - deal with it.
The SABC and e.tv should use all their other hours when they broadcast entertainment fare like Fear Factor and Generations and SA's Got Talent and Khumbul'ekhaya to cross-subsidise their news responsibilities and budgets.
Imagine a private hospital and a state hospital both saying they want to close down their emergency rooms because the money-guzzling and traumatic ER's are a drain on the bottom-line.
They now rather wants to concentrate on the Botox injections, cataract laser surgery and big ticket heart transplants that come with higher patient co-pays and medical aid contributions.
Lets leave the ugly, harder, yet very real part of what being a hospital actually is and represents, to other places.
That's what both e.tv and the SABC now argue: Less of the hard work, the ugly work and the difficult struggle for less viewers - so that they can concentrate more on the beautiful, money-making, less ugly side of life.
In its submission to Icasa that the SABC made in response to e.tv's application to get out of doing a 30 minute TV news bulletin during prime time, the SABC says that allowing e.tv to no longer do prime time news would unfairly benefit e.tv through "flexibility with respect to scheduling of their programmes, whilst the SABC does not have that privilege".
The SABC in its submission says "prime time share movement shows that South Africans follow dramas across the three most watched free-to-air schedules"
"The SABC respectfully submits the prime time flexibility is required by all free-to-air broadcasting services, hence the request for a review of the whole FTA licensing framework."
The Democratic Alliance (DA) political party is already weighing in, saying in a statement that "all free-to-air broadcasters, and in particular the SABC as South Africa's public broadcaster, have an obligation in terms of the Electronic Communications Act to fascilitate news and educational programming in the national interest".
"It is logical that this must happen during prime time, when most South Africans are watching TV," says Phumzile van Damme, the DA shadow minister of communications.
"By the SABC's own admission, over 12 million people watch TV during prime time, with 79% of adults in urban areas relying on free-to-air television as the most regular source of news."
"Icasa has always held the position that prime time is the right time for broadcasters to broadcast local content when the majority of South Africans are expected to be watching TV."
"It must stick to this position, and not allow e.tv and the SABC to dumb down the South African populace by only airing news broadcasts when fewer people are watching TV."
"Icasa must place a further obligation on the SABC in particular, to ensure that the news it provides the South African public is impartial, balanced and an accurate depiction of conditions in South Africa," says Phumzile van Damme.