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14 February 2011

Discontent over SABC Content

Don't fret if you miss the soap opera Generations on SABC 1 at 8pm -- you can still watch it at 9am, the following day.

If you miss it then, you can watch the same programme on SABC 3 at 10am. If you unable to watch it, there's no need to despair, for come Saturday, SABC 1 will show every single episode shown that week from 10am until noon.

Cross-channel collaboration seems to have been upped to get SABC's flagship programmes as much exposure as possible. So a programme, say Isidingo, that is shown on SABC 3 is also likely to be shown as a repeat on SABC 1.

This recycling isn't just short term. The corporation's commissioning editors (part of the SABC's consolidated content hub) have gone into the SABC's vaults, feather dusters in hand, bringing out programmes first shown in the 1990s. Lesilo Rula and Skwizas are some of the programmes getting a second lease of life on the screen.

When they are not serving the usual helpings of violence (Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal are favourites), then it's inane comedies by Leon Schuster and the other usual suspects. But it's not always bad. Once in while one of the channels will show a really good film. But such auspicious moments are always spoilt by their ill-considered timing.

On Monday, for instance, SABC 3 showed a classic by Pedro Almodovar -- High Heels -- at 11.15pm! An exasperated viewer wrote on TVSA, a television industry portal, that "SABC 3 keeps repeating Top Billing adverts. I don't know how many times I've seen clips of Jamali, Prime Circle, Meyerstate, Celine Dion with that old French man …"

The saga
A scriptwriter, who follows local television closely, said that apart from Intersexions (an edgy and compelling sex show on SABC 1), there had not been any new exciting programmes made. "What they show is a lot of old shows from the 1980s."

The content saga at the SABC, described by some as "a content collapse", is linked to the problems that have plagued the SABC for years. Its signifier is that the corporation's chief executives always seem to be in the out tray.

As the SABC battles to retain audiences appalled by repeats and poor programming, and eagerly subscribing to satellite television, it has become difficult to distinguish it from private players like

Rehad Desai, a filmmaker and Independent Producers' Organisation board member, said the SABC should not be in competition with, screening programmes about wrestling, dancing and becoming millionaires. "This has nothing to do with enhancing [the lives of] citizens of South Africa -- that should be left to the commercial sector."

He said private radio stations, especially 702, Kaya and Highveld, had taken over the role that the SABC should be playing. "The role of the SABC is to get the nation in conversation with itself." Desai said the panicky approach of the SABC seemed to be driven by the question, "How do we stop losing our audience?" and the short answer is, "Let's imitate them [commercial stations]."

Tawana Kupe, Wits University's dean of humanities and journalism professor, said the scripting and storytelling template in use at the SABC was founded on the Hollywood formula. "Can't we tell our stories differently? African stories are being told via other people's stories," Kupe said.

'Dumbing down of content'
Muvhango, a soap opera on SABC 2, used to be diverse in its presentation and context, but it now felt as though it was set in Johannesburg. The evolution of Muvhango from its Venda-specific context into a culturally neutered programme was just one instance of the dumbing down of content at the SABC Kupe said this defeated the whole purpose of having a programme in Tshivenda.

Visit the Mail and Guardian site to read the rest.

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