SABC news channel plan ‘was never approved’

2012-10-18 11:48

The SABC’s long-delayed 24-hour news channel has been dealt another setback after the finance minister said “this is not the time for vanity projects” for the SABC and revealed that the business plan has not been approved.

The SABC’s News International TV channel, which cost the South African public broadcaster millions to set up and operate since July 2007, was canned after two and a half years in March 2010.

Since then, the SABC wanted to replace it with a new 24-hour news channel, which was supposed to start in April last year, then April this year, and then last month.

After multiple media enquiries this week the SABC was only prepared to say that “the channel has not been launched, and when it is, this will be communicated accordingly”.

The SABC announced September as the starting date at the SABC’s hastily convened press conference in August.

The SABC then said the news channel would start thanks to substantial investment from MultiChoice and will initially only be available on DStv, although the news channel would later be freely available as one of the SABC’s TV channels when digital terrestrial television (DTT), also long-delayed in South Africa, eventually starts.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan told Parliament that the business plan for the SABC’s 24-hour news channel has not been approved.

Treasury has seen the business plan but it has not been given the green light. That means that the SABC can’t start the news channel.

Gordhan told Parliament that the SABC’s executive management “must take credible measures to stop wasteful and ill-considered projects and expenditure”.

The SABC told Parliament that the new news channel is a core part of the SABC’s turnaround strategy for the beleaguered public broadcaster.

Besides sports, news is however the most costly programming to produce and the SABC has not yet indicated how the channel will actually be a revenue driver.

Meanwhile, the SABC’s head of news and current affairs, Phil Molefe, is still on special leave after months, not overseeing the set-up but waiting for a disciplinary hearing to take place.

The SABC told Parliament that the broadcaster plans to spend R288.9 million over the next three years on the 24-hour news channel.

Communications Minister Dina Pule told Parliament that the SABC’s news channel would cost R180 million per year to operate with the operational cost ballooning to R240 million per year by the fifth year.

MultiChoice said this week: “MultiChoice can confirm that the SABC news channel will be carried on DStv. However, the date of the launch has not been finalised.

“Once we finalise the launch date, we will make the necessary announcement to our customers and the media on the details of the SABC news channel on DStv.”

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