by Gill Moodie (@GrubstreetSA)  There’s a real shake-up of TV coming South Africa’s away – especially of television news – and none of it bodes well for our newspapers.

The SABC launched its 24-hour news operation on the DStv satellite network (on channel 404) last week while the Gupta family –  owners of TNA Media, parent company of The New Age newspaper –  is getting ready to take their 24/7 news  operation live (on channel 405) very soon.

The Guptas’ Africa News Network 7 – or “ANN7” – already has a rather slick-looking beta website up and Atul Gupta has been tweeting recruitment ads:

Meanwhile, Sabido – the owners of and the eNCA news channel – recently announced it would launch a new free-to-air satellite TV service called Openview HD later in the year and, this month, Icasa started a new round of hearing for pay-TV licences. One of the applicants was Kagiso TV, a subsidiary of Kagiso Media that owns East Coast Radio and Jacaranda FM.

All this, as the ill-fated TopTV is getting its house in order with a financial bail-out from its new owners, StarTimes, a Chinese firm with pay-TVaan7 operations in 10 African countries. (The Electronic Communications Act caps foreign ownership in licensed broadcasting entities at 20%.)

There is speculation that eNCA will be moved from Naspers’ DStv to Openview while SABC GCEO Lulama Mokhobo made it clear in this interview at the launch of SABC’s 24-hour news channel that the plan is for it to move to digital terrestrial television after it finally arrives in South Africa. The international deadline for the final switch from analogue to digital over is June 2015.

Digital terrestrial television (DTT),  when it comes, is in itself going to be a game-changer as it literally opens up the TV air waves with many more spaces on the frequency.  For consumers, it will mean cheaper, easier access to other channels as this  quote from an interview I did with Naspers CFO Steve Pacak’s earlier this year about the company’s  launch of DTT in Nigeria illustrates: “If you live in Lagos, you don’t need a satellite dish (as we do with DStv Multichoice in South Africa). It’s literally a plug-in-and-play system and we’re offering 15 to 20 channels at a very low price. The price point is less that $10. We started this business in the past year and it’s grown approximately 70 000 subscribers in its first year.”

The DStv MultiChoice behemoth is certainly facing more competition in the South African market but will these new TV-news operations have an effect on newspapers?

I think it will as it makes it ever easier for consumers to get news on the run and, crucially,  it slices the advertising pie even thinner. DStv is already stealing advertising away from print – especially magazines, the experts say – because it offers greater reach at more competitive prices.

There’s been quite a bit of sniffiness about SABC’s new DStv venture but I think it is foolish to write it off.

I’ve been dipping in and out of the 24/7 SABC news on 404 since it launched and I think it’s got a bum rap.  It’s not going to win any awards but aside from technical hitches, hokey promos and a lot of gratuitous backslapping at the launch, I don’t think it’s bad at all – especially the morning show, where they have co-opted the Morning Live team from SABC 2. Clever use of existing resources there!

The 24-hour SABC news channel seems quite informative to me, strong on Africa, there’s good weather, sport and traffic news, and I haven’t seen a particular bias towards the government.

It’s not as sophisticated or as fast with breaking news as eNCA but it does the job.

Last year I did a story of how the 7pm prime-time news show on was stealing viewers from that of SABC 3 news and Alette Schoon, a Rhodes University TV lecturer who has worked in the industry, pointed out to me the strengths and weaknesses of both eNCA and SABC. The important thing to remember is one is a commercial enterprise and the other is a public broadcaster. How interesting is this analysis from Schoon:

“In terms of quality in terms of visual storytelling and writing for the ear I must say I personally appreciate e,tv. US journalist Al Tomkins summarises the technique of producing good TV news in three phrases – shoot for the eye, write for the ear, and aim for the heart .  Just in terms of the principles of producing TV news, one should work within the confines of a medium that uses pictures and the spoken word.

“This means that a story for TV or radio should be written very differently from a print article – it demands strong verbs and short sentences, for example. Visuals need to pull in viewers and relate to content of the story. Journalists should also recognise that TV is a very personal emotional medium, and put people into their stories.

“I often find that SABC journalists don’t bother to change Sapa copy much and visuals are often just journalists listening to a ministerial press conference.

“While there is an attempt to introduce ordinary people as characters, these don’t go far beyond a grateful beneficiary of some project or a short comment from a victim. In terms of’ shooting for the eye, writing for the ear and aiming for the heart, seems to invest a lot in training to induct their new journalists in these techniques, and it shows – allowing them to produce more compelling television.

“However, adopting the strengths of the medium also puts one at risk of veering towards its great weakness, which is that of sensationalising news, making it purely an issue of individual dramas devoid of more substantial critique or context.

“While does a fine job in terms of making stories personal, I believe there can be a lack of broader context, particularly in terms of relating stories to issues that are not that familiar to middle-class viewers – such as the realities of poverty, for example, the gross underfunding of township schools.

“This is the danger of conceptualising the news audience in terms of a middle class ‘market’ and not as a public consisting of citizens who need to be confronted with issues that may sometimes be difficult for them to digest – such as the very unjust inequalities of our country and the responsibility of middle-class citizens in terms of social transformation.

“While it may be wonderful for’s investors that it is doing so well in terms of the market, I believe news should be more than just a commercial product as it enables democratic deliberation amongst citizens – and there is the danger that if issues are not popular with the market they may be swept under the carpet…

“While SABC, in my opinion, also does not give adequate voice to the poor and activists dealing with issues of poverty, and often over-emphasises the voices of officials and, therefore, the ruling party, I do think there is often more of a sense of our country as struggling with these difficulties and life beyond a middle-class bubble.”

– SA’s leading media commentator, Gill Moodie, offers intelligence on media – old and new. Reprinted from her site Grubstreet.

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