Wanted: a smooth operator – SABC + Zim + cricket = fail

By Antoinette Muller 11 August 2014

When a generator cable blew up and cut off the TV feed from Harare where Zimbabwe and South Africa were playing their only Test, it only underscored the SABC’s complete failure to serve the public when it comes to sports broadcasting. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

On Sunday, cricket fans were left in the dark when a generator cable blew up in the production van in Harare. The cut caused the TV feed for the broadcast for the only Test between Zimbabwe and South Africa to be lost. The jokes that could be made are endless, but it was a significant (and unfunny) reminder of just how much the SABC is failing the public in its refusal to broadcast ball-by-ball commentary.

Radio2000, the station usually tasked with such things for home series, hold the rights for the radio broadcast of the series. Despite that, only a couple of hours of broadcast actually saw the light of day from the Test thus far. Those appeared on Saturday morning at the start of the Test and, since then, nothing has been aired.

The station does broadcast some commentary for home series, but even those are often interrupted. When it comes to overseas tours, broadcasters are made to sit in a dark studio somewhere in Johannesburg and do their commentary from TV screens. This frankly, is unacceptable, and the cut TV feed on the weekend only underscored the failure of the public broadcaster.

For over four hours, South African fans had no live access to the match going on in Zimbabwe, other than through various websites. It served as a reminder that the SABC needs to rethink its strategy in serving the public when it comes to broadcasting sport. A commentary team at the ground – not shoved into a remote studio somewhere – should have been present. A power cut of such proportions could not have been predicted, but there should have been measures in place in case of unforeseen emergencies.

Yet the broadcaster’s failure to serve the public is nothing new. In 2012, Cricket South Africa had to beg and plead the SABC to broadcast any sort of cricket, even on TV. The rights, which usually sell for R30 million, were given away at R15 million. Despite the reduced cost, fans had to chew two-hour mixed live and highlights broadcasts in the afternoon and an extensive highlights package in the evening.

In February of that same year, sports administrator-politician Butana Komphela said in a review by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group that the SABC had an obligation to provide coverage of sports of “national interest”.

Surely the number one-ranked Test team in the world is of national interest? Accessibility to sport is a key part in furthering that interest and encouraging participation. But South Africa is so far behind in making cricket accessible to the public, it’s laughable.

While the UK’s Test Match Special remains an acquired taste, it does serve its purpose when it comes to broadcasting commentary of England’s matches. The British Broadcasting Corporation goes above and beyond its duty in serving the public when it comes to broadcasting sports. It has a commentary feed for all domestic cricket games – four-day and beyond – and that’s only their cricket schedule. It extends far beyond that when it comes to soccer, rugby and other sports, but it would be far too embarrassing to go onto extended commentary details.

While money plays a part, as the public broadcaster, the SABC 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. And since it can afford to increase SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s salary from R1.5 million to R2.4 million in one year, there is clearly no shortage of it.

The problem extends far deeper than money, however. The Daily Maverick understands the problem lies with the station manager at Radio2000, who does not want cricket on his show. His reasoning is not clear and some of it centres around wanting to turn the station into a more commercial station. There is nothing wrong with that, but then the SABC needs to make an alternative plan to get the broadcast out to the public. Isn’t that what licence fees are paid for? DM

Photo: A picture of the SA cricket game, courtesy of SABC.


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