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BizTrends 2018

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Manufacturing Indaba 2018

Ficksburg police protestor murder and politics of public broadcasting

It was with deep sadness (for the protestors) and a great shock (for the viewer) to watch SABC TV news bulletins transmitting images capturing South African police brutality towards service delivery protestors in Ficksburg, Free State, wherein a protestor later died allegedly after being shot at by the police.
The public broadcaster, in line with the reporting style of the world-renowned Al Jazeera TV network, boldly broadcast a video footage of police members brutally beating up a service delivery protestor in Ficksburg. The ruling party has raised concern about the transmission of the footage, given its violent nature.

Prior to showing the footage, SABC3 news anchor Mapaseka Mokwele indicated that the SABC News had captured the shooting and beating of the deceased protestor and duly warned the viewer about the violent nature of the footage. The footage resembled the brutality of the Zimbabwean and Kenyan police as they cracked down on protestors in the recent past.

Turnaround strategy

As the public broadcaster develops its turnaround strategy, hard-hitting and cutting-edge content shall be the main driver of audience and advertising. More than 20 million viewers watch SABC News daily. The advertising slots during news bulletins are the most-booked slots on TV and the slots generate a significant amount of advertising revenue for the SABC's bottom line.

The SABC is required by the regulator ICASA to fulfil a public and commercial mandate. SABC1 and SABC2 are the public channels, with SABC3 is the commercial channel. In terms of the Broadcasting Amendment Act, SABC3 is required to subsidise the public channels.

Unfortunately, SABC3 has been performing badly due to lack of appealing content [and we all know why that has happened, don't we? - managing ed]. SABC1 generates more advertising than SABC2 and 3.It therefore means the business model - that commercial TV channel must subsidise the public channels - has, for now, failed.

The SABC board must, in developing a turnaround strategy, lobby ICASA and Department of Communications to review and amend its broadcasting licence conditions, so that these are in line with the turnaround strategy and the long-term strategic plan.

Drives audience figures

According to research, news, local content and movies drive audience figures in South African TV broadcasting market. It is surprising that SABC3 recently decided to can the 10pm weeknight news, since it means that eNews at 10pm has no competitor for advertising revenue.

With elections and the ANC elective conference approaching, the demand for TV news shall continue to increase. The eNews Channel and Al-Jazeera (on the DStv platform) currently have high audience ratings, due to the crisis in Ivory Coast, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other appealing news and current affairs from around the world.

For the SABC to have a profitable business, it has to invest in news-gathering and production. The South African broadcasting market has a big gap for TV news channels; the emergence of the 24-hour eNews Channel demonstrates that ,with South Africa maturing as a democratic state, there is a need and demand for variety of TV news media outlets to provide in-depth analysis of news and current affairs unfolding in the country on a daily basis.

The SABC turnaround strategy must definitely ensure that a 24-hour news channel is re-conceptualised and produced for DStv and digital free-to-air broadcasting. The SABC3 seven o'clock evening news has, over the past two years, lost audience and advertising share to eNews and the ENews Channel due to the lack of critical and out-of-the-box news content.

Compelling, appealing and interesting

If the SABC board is committed to ensuring that the public broadcaster becomes the news media outlet of choice, the bulletin editors and producers must ensure that news reporters and cameramen bring to the studio news images that are compelling, appealing and interesting to the viewer.

Current affairs programmes such as Cutting Edge, Special Assignment, Interface and Asikhulume have lost the edge, due to content that is toned down without critical analysis and strong anchors [note: Special Assignment has a new host, Ashraf Garda, as of recently - managing ed].

It is also critical that, on the radio side, 5FM must introduce a current affairs programme to engage with the predominately white youths who are at most occupying the higher LSMs .5FM is the only SABC radio station that does not have such a programme.

The introduction of Asikhulume as an African language current affairs programme on SABC1 was a wise decision by the broadcaster; however, it appears the producers of the Zulu current affairs programme have over the years decided to dominate the discussions during the programme with English content. It is one of the SABC licence conditions that there must be more TV current affairs programming in African Languages.

Quality African language programmes, such as Khumbule Khaya and Zone 14, have high audience and advertising ratings. The SABC board must ensure that the turnaround strategy contain ways and means of commissioning high-quality African language lifestyle and drama programming.

About Avhasei Mukoma

Avhasei Mukoma is chairman of Mukoma Attorneys ( He is writing a book on competition in broadcasting and telecommunications industries in South Africa. Email him at . He writes in his personal capacity.