SABC 24hr channel only for DStv

The public broadcaster says it will launch the 24/7 news service on 1 August.

The SABC offices in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Picture: Christa van der Walt/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has announced it will be launching a 24-hour news channel on Thursday 1 August, but it will only be broadcasting on the subscription-based DStv service.

The public broadcaster will reportedly be assisted financially by MultiChoice.

Speaking to Stephen Grootes on Talk Radio 702's The Midday Report, acting Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng would not divulge the company's budget for the new channel, saying the information was confidential.

He's confirmed the launch will go ahead despite criticism that the station will cost too much to run at a time when the company doesn't have enough money to operate its current programming.

The state-owned company reported large profits last year, but was still struggling to fulfill the conditions set out when government loaned it nearly R1.5 billion in 2009.

It has also been subject to a number of changes in its leadership and is currently being run by an interim board.

However, Motsoeneng said the SABC was financially sustainable and would be able to fund the channel.

Brushing aside questions about the timing of the launch, Motsoeneng asked, "Why should we wait when people want to watch the news, wait for what?"

Also on The Midday Report, speaking for the SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, Kate Skinner criticised the decision to place the channel on DStv.

She said the SABC should wait for the rollout of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), which has been delayed for many years.

"I don't think that it should be on a pay platform, I don't think that it's the mandate of the SABC to be putting it on DSTV. I think that it has to be available to everybody and therefore they must wait until the digital platform is available."

She says while it's good that the SABC will be launching an all-day news channel as this will help it fulfil its obligation to the public, requiring people to have a subscription to a private service goes against that mandate.

She also said waiting for DTT to be rolled out before launching the channel would encourage people to make the move to digital.

"I think it would be one of the key incentives for people to actually buy these set top box decoders."

Asked whether the public broadcaster was faced with having less viewers on its traditional platform as more people make the move to subscription services, Skinner said the environment is increasingly competitive.

"What you're finding is that your free-to-air is more kind of 'poor-people's TV', and you don't want that - you want free-to-air TV to be amazing, real quality TV.

"I think, ironically, this move to put the 24-hour news channel on pay TV is encouraging take-up of pay TV and I don't think that's in the SABC's interest because it's interest should be strengthening free-to-air TV for everybody."