SA can ill afford SABC's 24-hour news channel
The Times Editorial: In the week that SAA was given a R5-billion lifeline in the form of a government guarantee, the SABC announced that it will ask the Treasury (read taxpayers) to help fund its upcoming 24-hour news channel.
Communications Minister Dina Pule has told MPs that the projected operational cost of the channel in the first year is R180-million, expected to increase to R240-million in the fifth year. The public broadcaster estimates that it will require a further R75-million for its capital expenditure programme.
Pule says the SABC will be able to partially fund the new channel itself ''but will not be in the position to carry the channel without support from the Treasury".
Leaving aside the fact that the SABC's cost estimates for the new channel are probably conservative, one has to question the wisdom of launching a 24-hour news operation in the first place - even if it is to be broadcast on DStv, reportedly with funding from MultiChoice.
Repeated massive bailouts by the government may have propped up the SABC over the years, but it is hardly a going concern. It is not so long ago that the public broadcaster asked the government for a R700-million bailout and announced that it was closing down several international bureaux.
For years now the SABC has been wracked by infighting among its top managers and board members. Its head of news has been on ''special leave" for the past six months pending a disciplinary hearing. Questions have been asked of its chief financial officerover procurement concerns.
Last month, SABC chairman Ben Ngubane told parliament that the board has ''degenerated into serious dysfunctionality".
In addition, the SABC's news department has hardly covered itself in glory and the corporation has been accused of flighting endless repeats. Rival 24-hour news channel eNCA, formerly eNews, will also provide formidable opposition to the new channel.