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SOS & MMA Statement SABC and eMedia Distribution Deal

29 March 2021

The SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) welcome the distribution agreement between the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and eMedia Investments – the company behind free-to-air service Openview. In a statement released by the SABC and Openview on March 25th 2021, the Public Broadcaster noted that “In addition to SABC 1, 2, and, 3, Openview will carry three additional television channels from the Public Broadcaster and all its 19 radio channels.” In general, we believe this to be a step in the right direction, and one that goes some way in ensuring more people can receive the SABC’s content and programming.

As much as the deal deserves celebration, it is also an indictment on South Africa’s failures to fast-track policy implementation on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), something which directly negatively impacts the SABC. We note that  the proposed switch off in March 2022 which appears to be being attempted by executive fiat will only likely result in numbers of people without even access to Free to air SABC with devastating results for those without access to satellite. At the same time, the deal also highlights the unsustainability of the current model which relies on and requires significant costs going to Sentech.  The deal signals not only the abject failure of DTT but another major battle looming over Sentech.

SABC Board must take the public into its confidence

While we acknowledge the positive impact such an agreement might have on ensuring universal access, there are critical questions worth asking. More so given that in the past, the SABC archives were effectively handed to Multichoice.  The South African public should be forgiven for being doubtful of deals that seemingly offer joint delight and benefit.  Drawing from these past lessons, therefore, we call for the SABC Board to take the public into its confidence: share the content of this agreement and highlight how SABC’s future stability, and indeed the public mandate is advanced by concluding the deal.

On the proposed 3 additional channels

As it relates to the three new channels set to be flighted on OpenView, it is worth asking:

·      Who will be paying for the content set to be aired in these three new channels?

·      If it is the case that the SABC will be covering the content costs, what is the projected timeframe by which the SABC is set to recoup its investments?

·      If it is the case that this is pre-existing content, given the concerns raised by performers around millions owed in unpaid royalties and what we saw playing out in terms of SABC Encore channel on DStv, it’s important to know how the Public Broadcaster will ensure that artists financially benefit from this agreement?

·      In general, does this agreement align with the Board’s turnaround strategy. And if this is the case, in what way does it fit?

Prioritizing an Education Channel

As a coalition, we also believe it is important that when it comes to the two additional channels (outside of sport), the SABC ought to ensure that one of these is an Education Channel. When South Africa went into a national lockdown in March 2020, it became clear that there are needs which the Public Broadcaster must service in line with its public mandate but also in response to the gaps that the pandemic has exposed. In that regard, we believe education-related content must be given a priority. Having seen that such a Channel is already being broadcast on the DTT services it seems this might be a quick win and benefit marginalised young people.

For further information please contact:

William Bird

Director, Media Monitoring Africa
+2782 887 1370

Duduetsang Makuse

National Coordinator, SOS Coalition
+2760 911 5889