Another SABC Public Mandate Bungle?

29 April 2010

A story in the Sowetan (See http://www.sowetan.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=1134901), focused on how the SABC has bungled its own arrangements for finding a venue for its World Cup broadcast.  According to the story SABC’s World Cup broadcasts were originally intended to be based at Nasrec – which if I recall correctly is the venue of the Media Centre for the World cup – so that at least made sense, as they would be with all the other media, making all the big personalities and celebrities easier to access, and they may even have had a view of the World Cup Calabash stadium in the background.  This I can understand.  What I cannot understand is why Sandton Convention Centre??

Clearly the story highlights operational and managerial issues that need to be cleared up and investigated, including a failure to act, ineffective systems and potential backhanders in securing a venue from which the SABC would broadcast its World Cup coverage, but the bigger question remains as to why they chose Sandton Convention Centre instead.

Yes maybe the centre has enough power and plugs etc, and maybe the Fifa big wigs will be just over the road in the Michelangelo, and maybe they were offered a discounted rate – which has clearly not as discounted as hoped, as the story suggest the SABC will have to fork out an additional 26 million for the venue. – But these reasons don’t seem terribly strong.  Stepping back a little, I guess my question’s are: Why do they need to have an outside broadcast venue to begin with? (Is it because they are the official broadcaster and they want to look fancy?) If they do need one have they selected a venue that will help them fulfil their public mandate?

If it had been Nasrec with all the other media it would have made sense, but if they cannot get that any longer why are they going to pay millions to hire a venue inaccessible to ordinary fans, and miles away from the actual stadiums?

Radical idea:
Why not if they cannot be at Nasrec, don’t they simply upgrade their clearly dilapidated studio facilities within the SABC itself?  At least this would save costs and it would give the SABC an opportunity to show off its own facilities to the guests it would seek to have in its studio’s, and it would have a lasting impact on the SABC’s own studio facilities.

If the SABC is fixed on the idea of an outside studio for the big event then again, why Sandton Convention Centre, when the only legacy will be more money to the Convention Centre and whoever else benefited from “renting” the space out to the SABC?

Surely it would make more sense to find a suitable venue in Soweto or around the stadium itself that could be used? (Yes I think this could be done despite Fifa’s rules about who and what can be near the stadium)

To my mind it would be more in line with the SABC’s public mandate if they were to broadcast where the local fans are, bring the SABC as close to the people as possible, let audiences get a sense of the city the stadium is based in instead of a dry and staid convention centre. – This cannot be achieved by being based in Sandton, but it could potentially be done by being located somewhere in Soweto.

I am sure there are plenty or community halls or other venues that could do with the upgrade to their facilities in Soweto.  If SABC are worried about specific broadcast requirements they could go and do a deal with Soweto Community TV who could do with a few million being injected into their facilities and at least that way at the end of it all there would be some positive legacy.

The SABC is “our” public broadcaster, and we are told this is also “our” World Cup, but how is anybody going to get that feeling of ownership of ”our” public broadcaster or of being with the fans or in the game, if the official broadcaster, is either not with all the other media, or if they are stuck in a corner of an elitist convention centre?

SABC senior management has a clear role to play here, clearly they needs to urgently investigate the validity of the allegations in the Sowetan story.  In addition however they needs to put the SABC public mandate first in asking, not only if they need an outside broadcast venue, but if they do, how they can use the money budgeted to meet their public mandate.