South Africa's broadcasting regulator has approved an application from the SABC for its annual local TV content quotas to be waived because of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The granted waiver from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) means that the South African public broadcaster is allowed to make and broadcast less locally-produced programming and fewer hours in 2020 of certain genres of first-run television content.
The SABC is under an annual obligation to broadcast a certain number of hours – in various languages – of new, original content in genres ranging from sports and news to current affairs, and from children's programming and educational content to scripted entertainment on radio and television.
Icasa is supposed to monitor and audit the process but for years haven't had the necessary equipment or human resources to properly do so, with the reported quota adherence which is currently self-compiled annually by the SABC and for instance stated with hour and minute breakdowns by genre in its annual reports.
Repeats and rebroadcasts of local content count less than new content shown for the first time and the SABC feared that it might not have enough, or be able to acquire enough, content in certain genres to make the quota criteria.
The relaxed regulation is only applicable for the SABC's TV channels and not the SABC's radio services, nor SABC News content.
The SABC applied for the exemption because of the government's imposed Covid-19 national lockdown to try and curb the spread of the virus which saw the South African film and TV industry shut down, and production companies turn off the cameras.
Since Monday some started to open, but others haven't with the delivery of new children's programming, sport and other genres to the SABC for broadcast that has been adversely affected.
The SABC emphasises that having sought and being granted the quota exemption doesn't mean that the broadcaster wants to do or show less local content that what it's mandated to do but is "an attempt to mitigate the impact that Covid-19 has and could have on the corporation's local productions as all production houses had to shut down when the national lockdown was announced".
"It is important to note that the public broadcaster needs local productions as part of its business model," the SABC says. "Therefore, the SABC will do everything within the regulations to grow its business while assisting local production houses it works with".
The SABC says that it is in discussions with various production companies delivering content for television broadcast and that each production "will be managed on a case-by-case basis".