Is it really the right thing to do?
SABC itself now roof kykers*
AND WE THOUGHT WE had problems with television. Last week 3m American households’ TV screens went black. In South Africa the number would constitute about half of all TV watchers, taking into account we likely share our sets more. The blackout was due to the switchover in the US to digital television and the switching off of analogue signals. The switchover had already been postponed by six months after an order from none other than Barack Obama.
That’s how serious they take TV in the United States.
You can’t watch on average five hours a day of television – the popularity of Facebook, Twitter et al notwithstanding – and not take the possibility of a blackout seriously. The US Federal government gave coupons for the set-top box you needed to still receive the new signal and yet 3m still lost out and the call centre set up to handle the transition received 800 000 calls on the day.
What’s that got to do with us? Well, at the moment South Africans get both analogue and digital broadcasts and this country’s switch-off date is November 2011. If the Americans are able to screw up (not totally, but still) something like this, what will happen here? I shudder. At least we have two years to figure it out (like we did with the Confed Cup ticketing process, right?).
However, things may go blank much earlier for those not lucky enough to afford DStv or their supposed coming competitors (they’ll all flop, I’m sure of it). Already Sentech, not itself a particular bastion of good governance, has threatened to stop distributing the SABC’s signal if it’s not paid. The threat of soapie reruns is probably a likelier scenario, but a fate worse than a complete blackout in my opinion. Over and above the political infighting and interference – and the consequent lack of credibility of the SABC – simple mismanagement at best and outright fraud at worst have brought us here.
With looting on such a grand scale in other sections of Government (public servants siphoning off hundreds of millions of rand), not to mention in the private sector (R10bn in Aids drug pyramid schemes), it’s easy to lose sight of the scale of mismanagement at the SABC. Just one example: the person in charge of programme procurement is alleged to have wasted as much as R100m on shows that never aired, among other allegations of corruption. That’s almost 450 000 people’s TV licence money down the drain. I’m sure my domestic worker who dutifully pays her fee every year could spend the R225 more wisely. Such as schoolbooks for her child and not on duty-free Clarins Day & Night Cream, as the report on the SABC procurement officer alleges.
As if one can forget it: when a stranger knocks on your door at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning to demand to see how the furniture in your living room is arranged – or through the constant SMSs demanding payment after said stranger found a TV in said living room – we’re paying for the SABC in two ways. We’re on the hook for a R2bn bail-out on top of the TV licence fee. Forget life insurance or car guards. In this country the TV licence is the ultimate grudge payment. Is it really the right thing to do to pay your TV licence? Or is it just throwing good money after bad? Need I even ask?
* Roofkyker (roof = rob and kyk = watch) is a term invented by the SABC (or SAUK as it was called at the time) to refer to people who watch TV “illegally” by not paying their TV licences. Maximum penalty is now six months in jail, down from two years previously.