Wednesday, 29 June 2016

SABC Blues

There are a few fundamentals that underpin a healthy democracy. Safety, security and a robust opposition rank high among them. Perhaps the most important democratic bedfellow, however, is information. Shortly followed by access to information.

Cue Hlaudi: our resident see-no-evil extraordinaire.

Here is how you derail media freedom, Hlaudi style:

Step 1 – team up with pay-per-view media monolith DSTV owners to throw every possible spanner into the digital migration works. Encrypted set-top boxes are a no-brainer – they will lower the barriers to entry for up-and-coming media houses like e-TV, while simultaneously bringing down the prices charged by the incumbent monopolist providers. It is one of the undisputed areas of capitalist prowess. Competition is important.

Predictably, the SABC threw its weight in the opposite direction, after scoring an economically senseless deal with Multichoice for a little free airing on its dishy platform for a few years. This is after big boss shareholder, the ANC - through Parliamentary control - had already resolved to go the encrypted route.

Granted, the lack of digital migration has more to do with Hlaudi’s boss, Minister Faith Muthambi, than it has to do with him directly. It would seem highly unlikely however that we would not hear about his discontent, if there were any to be heard. So we must conclude that he is complicit by his silence.

Step 2 – pay yourself a shit-load. Then some more. Oh, and a little more after that. Because after you fake your qualifications and score the top job at a national broadcaster, the rational thing to do is to fill your pockets as fast as possible. How he managed to have control over his own salary is yet to be revealed, but our man H&M is styling on R1m more than he had in 2014, without adding much to the Mzanzi Magic so many South Africans hold dear. Even our favourite heroine, Thuli Madonsela, said she don’t like the smell of his pay-check, but like most Public Protector pronouncements this issue was merely swept under the rug.

Step 3 – throw down the gauntlet to your reporters’ independence by banning coverage of violent unrest around election time. Apparently we citizens are incapable of viewing the embers of our public amenities without rushing to the nearest Putco bus with fire-lighters in tow. Best you take your viewing rights over to free-to-air e-TV… Oh wait, Hlaudi’s nailing them as well.

The big question you keep tonging on the roof of your mouth? Who benefits...

Judging by the ANC manifesto launch, everything is fine and dandy. They will be running into the 2016 municipal elections with their “Good Story to Tell” record on repeat. It’s pretty hard to keep your eyes on the Good Story pamphlet while Tshwane is burning on the TV screen in front of you. So maybe we have our answer. After all, the world is as you propagandise it, is it not?

Step 3.1 – discipline reporters for telling the truth. Acting-CEO Jimi Matthews was having none of that (after years of having plenty of that) and tenders his public resignation, because he’s had it up to here with screwing people out of their own democracy.

Boom. Hlaudi-capture complete.  He’s King Joffrey with a bit more swag.

But who cares? I mean, no-one watches SABC anymore, right?


Generations just rebooted its entire cast faster than you can say “I hereby tender my resignation because Jeremy Corbyn is a dick”, and yet South Africans just keep eating it up. In fact, between Generations and Uzalo, the two shows have amassed around 8 million viewers apiece in 2016 (I wish I could add them together for effect, but I can’t guarantee Ma Ntuli isn’t watching SABC 1 from 8pm – 9pm, thereby getting her daily dose of both soapies).

Prior to the reboot, Generations was pulling even bigger numbers, with a whopping 10 million viewers religiously tuning in every evening to watch Tau, Zola and Karabo do their thing. Let’s add a little perspective to those figures: Egoli, at its prime during the Mnet Open Time era, drew roughly 1 million viewers per night. Yes, that’s right Egoli fans, you ain’t got nothin’ on Zola.

So here comes the democratic kicker.

People who watch SABC 1, vote.

Let that sink in for a second. The news is on just an hour before the 8pm soapies begin, and the news is where we get that thing they call “an informed electorate” from. If you don’t want to be like that grumpy Yorkshireman, waking up to Google what the “EU” is the day after spanking it out the front door, then you care about having an informed electorate.

If 8 million people are sitting in front of their TV sets when that familiar “dun-dun-da-da-dun” of the seven-o’clock news begins to play, that’s a pretty significant proportion of our 25 million registered voters figuring out who burnt what today in Tshwane. Assuming only half of those viewers can vote, of which only half do, that’s still 2 million crosses put next to their mayor of choice. Less than 2 million votes put the EFF in Parliament. Less than 2 million votes stood between Brexit and Bremain. Less than 2 million votes secured Gauteng for David Makhura and the ANC in the last municipal election. And in an election that looks to be the most tightly contested in this country’s democratic history, our Generations watching comrades could just be the King-Makers.

That’s why we care about Hlaudi’s self-censorship policies. In an age when thugs rule the roost, and the Security Cluster is controlled by patronage serving loyalists, we need that democratic lever they call “The Vote” to be cast knowledgably, knowingly. The national broadcaster is our tax-funded vehicle for that knowledge. You have a right to know what is going on in the country you live in. You have a responsibility to vote accordingly.

If our citizens are being pacified by the dulcet images of Hlaudi-ville, they will vote as if that were the truth. For anyone in need of a brief history lesson, Google “apartheid era media muzzling” to see the effects of putting whities to sleep in the midst of their country’s own anarchy. History has already judged them poorly for it. We cannot repeat that mistake.

Safety, security and a robust opposition are absolute prerequisites to a healthy democracy. Without them we simply cannot hold credible elections. So when someone starts tampering with your information, whispering sweet nothings in your ear about the state of your country, it’s time to get pissed. You have the right to know when Rome is Falling. You have the right to know who’s safety and security has been taken away. You have the right to know how angry the people of Tshwane really are. Because, when it comes down to it, you have the responsibility to vote for the future of your fellow man. And best that vote be informed, or else Hlaudi will hold the keys to the castle.

Put simply, Hlaudi can’t win, because if he does, you lose.



  1. Compelling and conclusive, your article is!

    Something to add is the rise of news as entertainment - many youths (myself included) discover news stories through comedy television rather than balanced, well researched journalism. This change in news consumption combined with the SABC's fast dissolving credibility in terms of equitable journalism mean that segments of South Africa's population that should be well informed about the events unfolding within their own country instead find more entertaining news in Trevor Noah's musings on America or the BBC Radio 4's friday night news quiz.
    In short, news which is not amusing nor presented in an easy to consume format, is less likely to be engaged with. I feel that we are the poorer for it.

  2. Nice one Jono. Very interesting, and quite concerning.

  3. When the 2 million perspective was put really is urgently concerning. Thanks, Jono.