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SABC could can prime-time news

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The SABC has requested that its licensing conditions be amended to remove the requirement that it airs news broadcasts during prime time.

According to a presentation by the SABC at a public hearing last week at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) on a similar request by eTV, the public broadcaster requested that all free-to-air broadcasters be allowed flexibility to decide whether to air news broadcasts during prime time.

This means that, should it be approved by ICASA, free-to-air TV stations in South Africa will no longer be obliged to air news broadcasts during prime time.

The DA will voice its objection to this when ICASA appears before the Portfolio Committee on Communications tomorrow.

Phumzile van Damme, DA national spokesperson and Shadow Minister of Communications, will also request that ICASA, which has the constitutional obligation to regulate broadcasting in the public interest, spell out its position on the canning of prime time news.

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 facilitate 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.

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. Only 1 in 10 rely on social media as a news source.

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. Van Damme believes it should stick to this position, and not allow eTV and the SABC to dumb down the South African populace by only airing news broadcasters when fewer people are watching TV.