Business, Media, Politics

SABC: Money, Lies and HD-video

By Branko Brkic 23 November 2009

We’re fairly confident the SABC has lied to us all in the past, but now it’s taken things to a whole new level.

The SABC’s been caught telling porkies about the World Cup. Until now you’d have been forgiven for thinking that next year’s tournament is bringing in tonnes of business for everyone. The production of the TV pictures that would be seen around the world (the tournament is about television, after all) and, it seemed, the vision mixing would involve Afrikaans and Sotho accents. That’s what the SABC told us all.  It was “host broadcaster” of the World Cup.

Well, the public broadcaster was lying. Not just to us, but to a high court judge. Hell, they’ve got balls at least.

The revelation emerged in court documents relating to a tender dispute. Several years ago the broadcaster decided it needed a new fleet of outside broadcast units. You know, the big AIRTIME trucks you see parked at the Wanderers that have loads of TV monitors in them. They come in all shapes, sizes and costs. Recently, it’s been all about high definition. Apparently, the tournament doesn’t really happen unless you can see what kind of stitching was used to make the ball an Adidas. So the SABC gamely started a tender process. They gave the contract to Sony South Africa. Digital Horizons felt hard done by and rushed off to court. 

Once there, the SABC came up with a novel argument. “Look,” said its lawyers, “they may be right. The contract could actually be bogus, but you can’t cancel it now because, if you do, we wouldn’t be able to broadcast the matches, and you know, there’s a big international audience etc…” It’s a goodie. We’re tempted to ask which legal brain was running the place when the SABC made that argument. Oh yes, wait, it was Dali Mpofu. The judge was unhappy, but let it pass.

Anyway, Digital Horizons kept pushing. And eventually Fifa was dragged in. And yes, Fifa confirmed that, in fact, “The pictures you will see are all produced in-house. The SABC and other broadcasters will just take our feed”. There’s plenty of detail here, it’s really a tender dispute. But the kernel of this is that the SABC has lied. It’s not doing anything related to the broadcasts. All it’s allowed to do, along with other accredited broadcasters, is bring in some cameras to fill slots that will look at the coach of each national team. 

The case will run for much of this week. The judge is unlikely to be amused at being lied to. Fifa is testifying in the case, and thus someone could be accused and possibly convicted of perjury. It may be unlikely, but surely it would strengthen the hand of Digital Horizons.

But on a deeper level, the SABC has now been caught with its pants down. It’s using the sub judice defence all over again, claiming it can’t comment on the matter. It’s wrong there too. Firstly, the matter is now in the public domain in that Fifa has confirmed whether there is in fact a broadcast contract. Secondly, the Supreme Court of Appeal has said, in a judgment written up by Judge Robert Nugent, that it’s not necessarily sub judice to discuss a matter which is before court. 

The corporation has had a bad time of late. Its public image has gone from bad to worse and its reputation for telling the truth is pretty low. But it’s one thing to lie to the masses that have to pay their licence fees. Lying to a judge is an entirely different thing. Be it arrogance or just plain stupidity, it can have dire consequences.

We believe the interim board when it says it’s trying to sort things out. But it looks as though the minefield left behind by the old management is still live, and there will be detonations, often. Good luck to whoever tries fixing the SABC right now.

By Stephen Grootes

(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)

Photo: A girl watches as deposed South African President Thabo Mbeki addresses the nation, on national broadcaster SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation), in Johannesburg, September 21, 2008. Mbeki told the nation on Sunday that he has tendered his resignation, plunging the country into political uncertainty. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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