Bad TV a really clever idea
The whole business plan is so devilishly, even fiendishly clever that, it seems to me, none of you has cottoned on to what the Guptas are really up to this time.
Imagine you are going to launch a 24-hour news channel that will broadcast on the DStv bouquet. You're going to be up against the likes of eNCA, Sky News, CNN, Al Jazeera, CNBC - proper TV news services with slick presenters, clever reporters and technical personnel who know what they're doing. How are you ever going to compete?
The clever Guptas came up with a cunning plan: put lots of great-looking totty in front of the camera and get them to make complete fools of themselves. Anil Gupta spotted the fact long ago that he was no Ted Turner. So, when the time came for him to spend the money he had made out of the world's worst newspaper on a TV station, he hit upon the wonderfully clever idea of doing really bad TV, so bad that everyone would talk, tweet and write about it. And everyone with a satellite dish would be glued.
While I was out of the country these past two weeks, Guptastan lurched from the ridiculous to whatever comes after the ridiculous - and I missed the fun.
In London last week my friends and I were guffawing mightily at the Youtube clip about the TV station that named the Asiana crash pilots as including "Captain Sum Ting Wong" and "Wi Tu Lo". We were entirely oblivious to the fact that, back in South Africa, much better sports were to be had as the world's worst TV station was launched - and that it was beyond hilarious.
I've just watched my first five minutes of ANN7, five minutes that were as pricelessly awful as the station has been cracked up to be. Most of those five minutes of my life, that I will never get back, consisted of a weather report in which the great-looking presenter predicted that KwaZulu-Natal could expect a "couple of rainfall". then the "action" switched to Jimmy Manyi, of all people, looking so wooden as he was about to interview Jackson Mthembu on how wonderful the ANC was, that I got the giggles and had to switch channels.
Perhaps it is just as well I missed the launch of ANN7: I would have stayed awake all night watching out for their next stuff-up, and ended up laughing my way into Tara. That is more or less what happened to me when the SABC launched its 24-hour news channel (now only the world's second-worst TV channel) some months ago - I wasted hours that might have been spent productively.
The SABC is clearly smarting at the runaway success of the terrible ANN7. It has, I now learn, hit back by getting a rocket scientist called Hlaudi Motsoeneng to state on record that he wants 70% of the public broadcaster's news to be of the positive, isn't-life-splendid-under-Jacob-Zuma sort.
The mandarins at Faulty Towers will be scared stiff that the Guptas will apply to their TV station the same formula that has made such a success out of a daily rag no one reads: get government departments to pay for advertising they never knew they wanted.
Crony broadcasting is not only ethically unsound, it is downright dangerous. TV and radio are immensely powerful media and, just when we need to be fostering a national culture of excellence, dumbed-down television has the opposite effect: of telling impressionable millions that mediocrity is acceptable.
Returning to South Africa after two weeks in the real world, I find myself being hounded by a firm of lawyers to pay my TV licence. But TV licence money goes to the SABC - and we all know what those nitwits do with our money. Since my one relapse (when they launched their round-the-clock news channel) I never watch SABC TV. Nor do I ever listen to their radio. So I am, to use a well-worn cliché, on the horns of a dilemma.