So, the Guptas are building a media empire. They have a lot of money to throw around.
First, they have a newspaper which is losing money hand over foot, despite sympathetic advertising and subscriptions agreements from government and parastatals. Now they are partners in a new 24-hour news channel on the DSTV pay-TV system. And they are doing a Sunday night current affairs show with SABC.
I expect most of these products to have the ham-handed, cheap production values of the newspaper, which has been a disappointing product, with pages filled with the most mundane provincial news and the inexperience of its proprietors shining through. What a pity they have no yet succeeded in becoming a strong and distinctive pro-ANC voice.
It is easy to make cheap and bad television, based in a studio and with nothing but talking heads. Even easier when DSTV gives you a free channel, no doubt to ensure the ongoing security of their own broadcasting license. (Interesting that Naspers is making the same kinds of deals with the Zuma’s that it did with Pik Botha in his day.)
It is much harder and costlier to run a decent 24-hour news channel, particularly when you are up against eTV, which is doing a pretty good job of it. Let’s see if they can do it.
All of this is good and fine, as it is good to have more news outlets, more voices in the politicosphere and – hopefully – more jobs for journalists. The more worrying one is the Sunday night deal with SABC TV.
SABC needs to be scrupulously neutral and needs to be careful of siding with one particularly partisan newspaper. Besides, SABC has a huge newsroom and massive resources – so why is it outsourcing this job? They need to explain it to us.