SABC, DStv news channel delayed again

2012-10-15 15:58
Cape Town – The SABC and DStv's new multi-million rand 24-hour news channel which was announced to start at the beginning of September has been delayed yet again - and nobody is talking.

Although MultiChoice as a private company is making a substantial investment of millions of rands into the news operations of South Africa's public broadcaster, the SABC managed to get the government to agree to have taxpayers fund the news channel to the tune of several millions more without which the SABC says the new news channel won't survive.

After an original starting date of April 2011, then delayed and moved to April 2012, in August the SABC announced that the new 24-hour news channel would start at the beginning of September on DStv with substantial investment from MultiChoice.

In September MultiChoice moved the euronews channel on DStv away from channel 404 where presumably the new news channel will be placed next to the eNCA on channel 403.

No response

Now more than a month later the SABC has not yet responded to multiple media enquiries made during September as to the launch and details of the channel.

MultiChoice only says an announcement regarding the SABC news channel will be made at an appropriate time.

According to insiders, the new channel will carry the initial name of SABC News 24 Hours, although there's been unhappiness within circles about the name.

The new 24-hour news channel will have an operating cost of R180m per year which will escalate to R240m per year after five years.

The SABC plans to make the news channel available as a free-to-air digital TV channel once South Africa's long-delayed and constantly postponed switch to digital terrestrial television (DTT) eventually takes place.

Funded by taxpayers

In August the Treasury agreed that taxpayers will fund the SABC with further millions, although the exact amount has not been disclosed.

The minister of communications, Dina Pule, told parliament that the SABC would not be able to run the 24-hour news channel without support from the government.

On 17 August the minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan, gave the SABC board his approval.

News channel a purely commercial relationship

"The commercialisation of the public broadcaster has placed it in a position where, as important as it is, it is all to concerned with meeting the bottom line and is losing sight of its core business: public service broadcasting," said Sekoetlane Phamodi, the co-ordinator of the SOS Coalition, a vast public interest group concerned with the eroding state of public broadcasting in South Africa.

"With particular reference to the 24-hour news channel, it comes as a grave concern and disappointment to us that the broadcaster would choose to launch the channel on DStv - first or at all – and really underscores this very point about loss of focus on its core business as a result of commercialisation.

"At our meeting with the SABC we were advised that the incorporation of the channel on the DStv bouquet was a purely commercial relationship with MultiChoice which would help the SABC to attract viewers from higher LSMs and, consequently attract more advertising revenue," said Phamodi.

He said the SOS Coalition nevertheless "welcome the establishment of the channel".

"The SABC has indicated that it intends to build the channel's brand as the South African newscaster of choice, and we believe that it is imperative that this come from the public broadcaster.

"The SABC News brand should be the trusted voice and mirror of all South Africans and we will continue to endeavour to support the SABC in establishing it as such for the public interest."

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