Public broadcaster dropped the ball years ago

10 October 2017 - 06:55 By The Times Editorial
SABC in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.
SABC in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.
Image: Waldo Swiegers. (C) Sunday Times.

Cosatu's firebrand Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich briefly turned his focus to rugby last week and, more specifically, DStv.

Speaking ahead of the Rugby Championship clash between the All Blacks and the Springboks, Ehrenreich bemoaned DStv's monopoly over rugby broadcasting rights.

He threatened to protest and "write to the international rugby federations to make them aware of the discrimination that is taking place in South Africa around national games".

Ehrenreich does have a point. SuperSport is holding sports-loving South Africans hostage with sky-high subscription rates for the DStv premium package. Tough luck for those who cannot afford the R789 per month. Yes, it feels like a lost opportunity to bring together a country in desperate need of a unifier.

But it is more complicated than just blaming "greedy" SuperSport, who Ehrenreich accused of putting "profit and greed before the interest and wellbeing of ordinary South Africans".

The core of the problem goes back to politics. Our public broadcaster dropped the ball many years ago. SuperSport slowly but surely started acquiring exclusive broadcasting rights for matches from as early as the 1980s. Since then, it has been unstoppable.

In 2011, the SABC said it did not have the "financial power" to fork out the rights for the Premier Soccer League, letting SuperSport International walk away with a five-year rights deal. More recently - last month to be exact - SABC could not even manage the broadcasting of a local boxing tournament for which it had received three bids.

Ehrenreich is correct to be upset about the accessibility of national sports games to the nation. But if he wants to protest, he should be marching to the SABC, because while it was busy mismanaging itself, the competition took the opportunity to build its own empire.