Having opened up bureaux across the world, the SABC now has to plan the closure of most of them at a cost of many millions of rands.
I am told by a senior and excellent source within the SABC that the budget for these bureaux is R500-m for the next three years – clearly not sustainable in a climate of severe cost-cutting. I am also told that there are major questions to be asked about how they were approved, as they were outside of the budget, they were blocked by management and it was the board that recommended this expenditure.
The idea was a good one, but only half-formed, ill-though-through and then messed up in the execution. It is an excellent idea to have or own people getting our perspectives on developments in major capitals, such as Washington, London, Brussels and Beijing. It is also an excellent idea to boost our own coverage of Africa, as we can hardly criticise the world’s way of covering the continent if ours is not better.
However, given the cost implications, it really needed to be done carefully. Why, for example, would you need a bureau in Jamaica? As one person put it to me: “This is pan-Africanism gone mad.” It is driven by ideology rather than common sense, and the result is going to be a massive waste of money.
Surely you start with regional offices in each of North, West and East Africa? And surely you start by improving our coverage of our immediate neighbours, like Swaziland and Mozambique?
We also have to say that the opening of these bureaux has not notably improved coverage of Africa, at least not yet. There are insufficient on-screen outlets to accommodate what they should be producing. It seems crazy to have these bureaux and not create some programming space to highlight their work.
As far as the major capitals go, I think there is a difficulty with what appears to be their brief. I see them covering the big stories, such as Obama’s inauguration, but in doing so they are outclassed by the big news agencies who have much more resources and access. Surely they should focus on stories which can’t be bought from the agencies, and which have a particular African interest, perspective or flavour? Surely they should look to add to our coverage, not just replace what comes from the agencies?
My fear is that because of these missteps, and because of the financial crisis, most if not all of these bureaux will be closed. That would be sad, as we need better coverage, particularly of the rest of Africa.