I have accepted the fact that having three local 24 hour news channels does not give manna of news from South Africa and the rest of the African continent.Much has been written about the growth in numbers of the 24 hour news channels in South Africa. Many pundits are saying the growth will bring about diverse news content and other programming. I disagree with those who see 'growth', 'diversification of news', and all the bells and whistles touted. Instead I see all three news channels reporting on the same thing and using the same method in gathering their stories and recycling content all day long.
When the SABC News and more recently ANN7, bar the launch glitches, launched and joined the existing eNCA it was seen as a step in the right direction, however strategically the channels have failed to capitalise on the most important aspect of a 24 hour news channel, that of capturing impactful events as they happen. Simply put, a 24 hour news channel should give viewers relevant and current news content. Let me take you back to two recent incidents I have observed and how our news channels failed. These are the heroic salvaging of the Costa Concordia as well as the tragic Kenya Westgate Mall shooting.
A South African led the salvage operation
The salvage of the Costa Concordia, which was wrecked off the coast of Isola del Giglio in Italy last year, was an international news spectacle. Although this being an incident in one of the European countries it was even more interesting and relevant for Africans, in particular South Africans because a South African was leading the salvage operation. None of the three channels dedicated a segment to this operation. Where we were lucky we would have one channel running bits of the story on every half-hour bulletin. No one capitalised on the angle of a South African leading this operation. Even in this age of technology, a simple thing such as a time-lapse video couldn't be shown. Lack of coverage by South African news channels led to people who were interested in the story streaming live from international news channels.
The current terrorist attack and ensuing standoff at the Westgate Mall in Kenya has most people worried, praying, in a state of panic and hoping for some resolution... The Kenyan president said, "this is not a Kenya's war, it is an international war" so the international community is sitting and waiting for up-to-date news on the play of events in Kenya, Every report out of Kenya is lapped up. However it seems that even when we are under attack as Africa we still can't lead from an African source. African news channels are conspicuous by their absence.
They do it differently overseas... Well!
Closer to home we have Sky News providing a feed as well as commentary for one of the channels and a four-hour-old banner scrolling what it calls BREAKING NEWS. This banner is repeated in every news bulletin throughout the day. If we are lucky we will get an "East Africa Bureau Chief" giving a report over the phone. The other two channels would give a report that seems like it's been copied from a BBC website. Of the three 24-hour news channels we have, not even one has been able to put a crew on the ground in Kenya with an OB van for a minute-by-minute run down. It seems we have forgotten that South African is in Africa and that our news channels need to give us current news from the rest of Africa.
Our news channels have a long way to go to catch up to their international counterparts. A classic case in point, when Nelson Mandela was in hospital and everyone was talking about his demise, I received an email from journalist in Sweden telling me their bags are packed and they are on standby to come down with 24 hours. See how international players do it? There is always a plan and turnaround time to getting a firsthand report to viewers and readers. If Nelson Mandela were to just blurt out one cough, throngs of international journalists flood our shores and OB vans line up. Our response to that? Cry foul and accuse the international media of being insensitive. We say this because we have taken the backseat in leading with news that talk about us and we have outsourced that part to SKY; CNN and Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile the news consumer is left standing hands out looking to the international channels asking "please sir, can we have some more news?"
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