The South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC’s) decision to launch its 24-hour news channel on pay-TV MultiChoice’s platform needs clarity on its business case.
This is according to the DA’s shadow minister of communications, who adds this is particularly necessitated as free-to-air e.tv offered the public broadcaster the prime first three channels of its soon-to-be launched satellite TV service at discounted rates.
“I have written to the Minister of Communications, Yunus Carrim, asking him to publicly clarify whether acting chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng had the approval of either himself or the previous Minister to negotiate and sign a deal of this magnitude and the expected financial benefits that are expected to accrue from it,” she writes.
“In the letter, I requested that Minister Carrim clarify: why the SABC turned down e.tv’s offer to use its satellite broadcast platform for its new channels; whether he, the previous minister and the four-member SABC interim board was aware of e.tv’s offer to share its satellite platform; whether National Treasury approved the MultiChoice deal in terms of the R1,4-billion loan guarantee financing the corporation’s turnaround strategy and 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.
“I have also asked the Minister 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.”
Shinn explains that the previous SABC board rejected previous attempts by the SABC’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.
“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.
“The public broadcaster was offered these prime free-to-air channels at standard definition rates despite the fact that the broadcasts would be in high definition,” Shinn adds. “This would probably be significantly cheaper than the terrestrial transmission rates SABC will pay once it goes digital.
“The fact that the 24-hour news and entertainment channels are to be broadcast on a pay-platform may be in contravention of its public broadcasting mandate, and possibly undermine its much-delayed transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting.”
Shinn has also asked the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communications, Sikhumbuzo Kholwane, to convene an urgent hearing at which the Minister, the Department of Communications, the SABC and e.tv account for the current state of the transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting (DTT) as the programme seems to be in disarray and stakeholders – such as set-top box manufacturers – are in a state of uncertainty.