No ball-by-ball: SABC refuses to recognise ‘national interest’ in world’s number one Test team

By Ant Sims 20 December 2012

The SABC will, for the first time since South Africa’s readmission to international cricket, not be showing a home Test series live. Instead, viewers can expect a highlights package and a mixture of live footage. Despite CSA’s best efforts to haggle a deal, the SABC has refused to buckle. And it refuses to view its decision as a problem. By ANT SIMS.

Although it was initially thought that the SABC would not air the series at all, the two parties have agreed for the three T20s and the one-day international series to be aired. However, the Test series will not be broadcast live; instead the SABC will show two blocks of footage daily. Fans will be forced to make do with a two-hour mixed live and highlights broadcast in the afternoon and an extensive highlights package in the evening.

To call it an agreement might be stretching the definition of the word just slightly. In February this year, sports administrator-politician Butana Komphela said at a review by the Parliamentary  Monitoring Group that the SABC has an obligation to provide coverage of sports of “national interest”.

If broadcasting the number one ranked Test team in the world playing on home turf isn’t national interest, then it’s hard to understand exactly what is. With the Proteas having gone the year unbeaten in the Test arena and having ascended to the top of the Test rankings, an achievement surely classified as national interest, the decision by the SABC is nothing short of shameful.

The public broadcaster, however, sees nothing wrong with its decision to not broadcast the Test series and insists that it takes its mandate seriously. Just not seriously enough to carry it out to its full extent, it would appear.

“The decision to broadcast these matches is a clear indication that we take our mandate seriously and we are cognisant that the public of South Africa deserve to see their cricket team,” the public broadcaster said in a statement.

Despite the fact that the SABC has, since South Africa’s readmission to cricket, aired home Test series and despite CSA dropping the cost of the rights rather significantly – in fact, almost halving it – the SABC refuses to make a plan to show the two-Test series against New Zealand.

The argument has, in the main, been that the interest simply isn’t there or that the viewership isn’t there. But, despite series sponsors Sunfoil agreeing to buy a chunk of advertising from the free-to-air broadcaster and the matches aired on the public broadcaster drawing far more eyeballs than the satellite broadcaster, the SABC has still not managed to bring the game to the masses.

Instead, over the New Year period, those who are nursing hangovers while chewing on left-over gammon and mince pies will have to watch another repeat of Charmed from 10 years ago or Noleen’s show with that doctor who looks like Mr Burns from The Simpsons, because the SABC had already sold advertising for those broadcasts. When the SABC worked out its broadcasting schedule for the festive period, it did not include cricket because the broadcaster deemed it as too expensive and an unviable source of advertising income. 

While many would suggest that CSA is at fault and should have buckled and given the SABC the broadcast for free, this would set a dangerous precedent. Considering SuperSport also pays top dollar for its part of the package, handing the SABC the broadcast on a silver platter which it gets to keep will cause some serious hostilities between all those fighting for a piece of the broadcasting pie.

The SABC, as a public broadcaster, makes most of its money from government grants and licence fees paid for by the public. It is up to the SABC to manage its budgets and ensure that money is spent adequately. Having failed to secure funding for the upcoming Test series against New Zealand, despite CSA’s best efforts to negotiate and drop its rates, the SABC has failed the public. The negotiations, as the Daily Maverick understands, were comical from the SABC and, despite CSA’s best efforts, the broadcaster simply refused to compromise.

The interest is there, the viewership is there, the advertising is there, but this saga is yet another example of just how ill-managed the SABC is.

When leadership fails in its most basic service it is up to the public to revolt. The best way to respond is to simply not tune into SABC over the summer. Radio 2000 will have ball-by-ball coverage – listen to the radio or head to the pub or friends’ house to watch cricket, but do not tune into the SABC’s broadcasts over the summer – it doesn’t deserve your support. DM


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