Opinionista Gushwell Brooks 26 August 2013

A 24-hour joke

The past week was quite eventful. Dina Pule was publicly reprimanded in Parliament, just to have the very same people who are supposed to rebuke her, kiss, hug and lick her wounds, equally publicly. The Marikana miners lost a court bid for state funds to pay for their private legal representation, Oscar Pistorius returned to court and on that note a supposed close friend of his, Kenny Kunene, has supposedly left the leadership structures of Malema’s EFF. So what does one write about with such a smorgasbord of great content for analysis? The brand-spanking new African News Network, of course.

It was the most memorable moment in all my decades of watching television: the pilot broadcast by the African News Network, also known as ANN7, on channel 405, Multichoice/DSTV’s latest offering.

Africa’s largest pay television service is quite smart with how they spread their channels. They cluster their movie, sports, series, documentary, comedy and news offerings into different categories with like channels being close to each other. This time around, however, it seems that they slipped up a bit, as South Africa’s most tragic comedy sits where serious news providers like CNN, SKY News and ENCA compete to give us the latest in news developments.

Peculiarly, I missed the pomp and ceremony that usually accompanies the introduction of a new channel on this pay TV service and conversation speaks of ignorance about the channel, but for a viral video of a disastrous sports bulletin. Unsurprisingly, like everyone else I have chatted to, the internet introduced me to the new channel after a much viewed video of two sports presenters, blundering their way through awkward glances at each other, inaudible muttering between the production team and inserts with no commentary, made it big in cyberspace. The video, it seems has been deleted from YouTube, with no more than the following message having replaced it. “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Aiplex Software Pvt Ltd.”

I would also claim copyright, if the only marketing for my channel amounted to a blooper reel that eclipses anything on Comedy Central. Notwithstanding, I thought that this was in all likelihood a storm in a teacup, yet another sensationalised misfortune, exploited by overly dramatic South Africans. “The teleprompter probably failed, as would be expected with any pilot broadcast and two rookie sports announcers were just caught off guard,” I thought to myself.

So to satisfy my own curiosity I tuned in, hoping to see broad smiles in tailored suits saying something glib about a few technical teething problems. Instead, it was amateur hour all over again, with a field reporter wearing a “doek”, the same video insert repeated three times, with three different reports bemoaning our labour unrest in the same bulletin and then, of course, the completely abysmal newsreading.

A basic tenet for becoming the next Riaan Cruywagen is that you have an immaculate reading ability and look okay on screen. It seems that the recruiters at ANN7 mistook immaculate reading ability for second grade level reading ability.

So here we have the latest offering by the Guptas, a family that seems to have the direct opposite of the Midas touch, but for the fact that they seem to be accumulating quite a bit of gold for themselves nonetheless. Here they are at the centre of this controversial 24 hour news station, this perfect storm.

Lambasting the family and their inability to secure onscreen talent aside, why is this all so much more than just a bad joke?

The media, that omnipresent, incorporeal thing that is to blame for brainwashed, neo-liberal, counter-revolutionary, anti-majoritarian views, has come under severe fire in the last few years. Every time some bigwig has his/her scandal exposed the media’s “biased, misinformed” agenda is fingered and the seven gates of hell are unleashed each time a journo gets a story wrong.

Defamation lawsuits, crimen injuria charges and complaints to media oversight bodies abound as poor journalism is used as an excuse for why the media – and by implication freedom of expression – should be more closely monitored.

A greater onus of care and responsibility is therefore placed on the media in ensuring that the highest standards are maintained in the practice of journalism. Maybe then naysayers might find it ever more difficult to shut down the papers because of the lies we spread. If we wish to protect our ability to commentate, analyse and report on what goes on within our world and do so factually with the highest standard of delivery, then surely ANN7’s performance thus far leaves much to desire.

Because of a blanket, whitewash public perception of a singular media, the failures of ANN7 can easily fall at the feet of the Daily Maverick, Primedia or any other media outlet. Increased regulation of the media has not reached popularity because of shoddy quality, it may account for a small proportion, but it is not the singular driving force for this push. The media is a very powerful thing, it is what makes people like Dina Pule, Oscar Pistorius and President Jacob Zuma real people and accessible to us in all in their glory and failures. But like anything powerful –think nuclear power – it is pretty destructive if misused.

So the Guptas have a pretty penny, enough to turn a military airbase into a private landing strip, supposedly build one of the widest distributed newspapers nationally and pay the likes of Arthur Mafokate to present a sports talk show and broadcast off a DSTV signal. But their pretty penny failed to secure talent, in the true sense.

So is ANN7 actually meant to be a joke, maybe a really sophisticated joke, like the ones they told on Frasier, the type that would have you laugh a while later when you finally made sense of it? Maybe it is a satirical parody of what goes on in the newsroom, very similar to Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”. The only thing is tht here, the newsreader doesn’t read everything on the teleprompter, because they simply can’t.

Either way, for now we are all laughing, but the joke is on us, because our subscription fees and corporate advertising pay for this. At least we could have been given the courtesy of professionalism. DM

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