Democratic Alliance MP Marian Shinn has called on the SABC to provide clarity on the business case for its planned 24-hour news channel. The channel will be carried on DStv, owned by Naspers’s MultiChoice.
Shinn says this is necessary given that she claims that e.tv sister company Platco Digital offered the SABC the first three channels of its forthcoming satellite TV service, OpenView HD, at discounted rates.
She has written to communications minister Yunus Carrim asking him to clarify whether the SABC’s acting chief operations officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, had ministerial approval to negotiate and sign a deal of this magnitude.
Some of the issues Shinn has asked Carrim for clarity on include:
— Why the SABC turned down Platco’s offer to use its satellite broadcast platform for its new channels.
— Whether Carrim, the previous minister and the four-member SABC interim board were aware of Platco’s offer to share its satellite platform.
— Whether national treasury approved the MultiChoice deal in terms of the R1,4bn loan guarantee financing the corporation’s turnaround strategy.
— Whether Nedbank, to whom the loan is being repaid, was consulted; and how these pay-to-view news and entertainment channels serve the SABC’s public broadcast mandate.
Shinn has also asked Carrim to produce the business plan on which the MultiChoice deal was based and state whether this was evaluated and approved by national treasury before the deal was signed.
The previous SABC board rejected previous attempts by the broadcaster’s executive management to “ram through” approval of the 24-hour news channel because it was “prohibitively expensive” and the “structural issues that landed the public broadcaster in a financial crisis have not been satisfactorily corrected”, Shinn says.
“The board wanted a deal with better terms, which Motsoeneng may now claim he has. But these terms were probably negotiated before the SABC was offered the first three channel positions on the satellite TV platform that e.tv and Platco plan to launch in October.”
Shinn says the SABC was offered these prime, free-to-air channels at standard-definition rates, despite the fact that the broadcasts would be in high definition.
“This would probably be significantly cheaper than the terrestrial transmission rates the SABC will pay once it goes digital.”
According to Shinn, the fact that the 24-hour news and entertainment channels are to be broadcast on a pay-TV platform may be “in contravention of its public broadcasting mandate, and possibly undermine its much-delayed transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting”.
In addition to her request for clarify from Carrim, Shinn intends asking the chairman of the portfolio committee on communications, Sikhumbuzo Kholwane, to convene an urgent hearing at which the minister and his department, the SABC and e.tv explain the current state of digital migration as the programme seems to be in “disarray”.
The SABC is facing a number of crises that are likely to be exacerbated by the impact of the MultiChoice deal, according to Shinn. These include the broadcaster’s “haemorrhaging money paying for a bloated staff complement”; a “weak” executive management team; the need for a new board that will need time to get to grips with the challenges it faces; and the lack of new content to attract viewers to its digital channels.
Other problems include the fact that funding from national treasury has not been finalised for the digital library that will convert archive material to digital format for transmission on its new channels and “stiff competition” the SABC faces from Platco’s free-to-air satellite service “as advertisers will be tempted to follow audiences who are likely to be attracted to fresh content on the new platform”.
Shinn says there are “serious doubts” about the SABC’s commitment to digital and the local assembly of set-top boxes — millions of which will be subsidised by the taxpayer — that are necessary to receive SABC and e.tv’s free-to-air programmes via digital signals. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media
- See also: SABC gambles millions on new channels