Is it re­ally the right thing to do?

SABC it­self now roof kyk­ers*

Finweek English Edition - - Something Els - FRIK ELS frike@fin­

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.

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