After its near farcical debut my guess is that the global TV news networks won't be scanning the new 24 hour news channel ANN7 for poachable talent. Say what you will about the SABC during the apartheid years but at least it produced people like Anand Naidoo*, Jane Hicks and Jane Dutton who went on to CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera respectively. The news may have been controlled by the Nats and PW Botha may have insisted on finger wagging air time whenever he thought he had something interesting to say but at least the propaganda was delivered professionally and audibly.
Not so with ANN7. Regular readers of this column will know I exist in a state of what can best be described as " genteel poverty" and can't afford the full monty bouquet from DSTV. If Mrs B and I go easy on the Tanqueray during the months of May and June and eat only lentils we can usually afford to upgrade to the premium service for the last week of Wimbledon and the Tour de France. But otherwise we are limited to the most basic service which fortunately includes BBC, CNN, Sky (worth the expense just for Sophy Ridge), Al Jazeera and a smattering of other channels, most of them dead boring. Oddly enough we don't qualify for eNews, the new SABC offering and ANN7 so I wasn't able to catch the now notorious opening of what has become known as Gupta TV.
That didn't matter as it happened because all the cringe-worthy bloopers (and there were many) appeared on You Tube and were maliciously reported by fellow SA journos. They have apparently since been removed from You Tube on the grounds of "copyright" but the damage has already been done.
Journos are, on the whole, a pretty nasty species and their obvious glee at the tsunami (always wanted to use this word) of ANN7 disasters was palpable. In fact, I began to feel rather sorry for the poor ANN7 presenters who had obviously been coaxed from waitressing jobs in restaurants by persuasive men with the promise of stardom. The fact that nobody behind the cameras had any more of a clue than those in front of them soon became apparent. But even my milk of human kindness ran dry when I heard Grand Prix pronounced Grand Pricks.
Having performed live on many occasions I am well aware of the terrible panic that can overwhelm one when the microphone doesn't work or the Powerpoint slides appear in the wrong order. The point is that you are supposed to be trained to make light of these things.
So if you can't read the tele-prompter then get out from behind your desk and deliver the news from a position where you can see the damn thing. And the last thing you do is start burbling inanely like the two chicks on the sports show. Just tell the viewers that you have a technical problem and you're going to chat about who you think is the sexiest footballer alive until things come right. That way you keep the audience on your side. Well maybe not on your side but at least you might garner a modicum of sympathy.
What the launch of ANN7 demonstrated is that "doing" actuality is damned hard and if you don't get it right first time then you're unlikely to win many supporters. Going on air with a new 24 hour news station when you're that unprepared is an insult to your viewers pure and simple. It sends out a clear message that you think the average SA television viewer is so dumb that he/she won't notice the many mis-spellings, mis-pronounciations and assurances that Jo'burg is the new mother city. Mugger city maybe. ANN7 is to broadcasting what George Bush Jnr was to US politics.
The question now is whether ANN7 can ever be taken seriously, especially with racist clowns like Jimmy Manyi on board. I think the answer to that is fairly easy. It probably wasn't ever going to be taken seriously by anybody with an IQ higher than their hat size because it's obviously an ANC election backup plan should the SABC ever decide to be objective.
The probability of it ever being taken seriously in the future, particularly by the rich folk who can afford to pay for the full DSTV bouquet, is zero. Unless, of course, they invite me to host a chat show. That means that the poor saps who were conned into thinking they could make a career in media with ANN7 will have to go back to flipping burgers, posing for magazines and stocking shelves at Spar. Who on earth is ever going to employ someone with ANN7 on their CV? Such is the rest of the SA media's loathing for anything Gupta that even accepting a job at The New Age or ANN7 qualifies you for leper status.
But cock-ups aside, whatever possessed the owners of this Frankenstein's monster to think that SA needed yet another 24/7 news channel? The fact is we don't even need the ones we already have because there simply isn't enough news to fill 24 hours a day, particularly if you don't have the resources to find it. Even the old pros like CNN and Sky repeat the same tired old story every fifteen minutes if nothing more interesting is happening. The idea that the viewing public need a 24 hour news station is absurd and driven purely by the desire for advertising.
The reality is that we have too many things competing for our attention every day. But you can only watch one TV channel at a time, only listen to one radio station and only call up one website (thank you for choosing Politicsweb). You can only watch one movie, read one newspaper, be active on one social media site or listen to one CD.
So what we have is information and entertainment overload and I am detecting a growing resistance to it for the simple reason that it is a thief of time and an energy sapper. I have never felt more exhausted than when I have to decide whether to watch TV, listen to the news on the radio or pick up my iPad just to find out that 5 people have died in a flood in China. And I didn't know any of them.
* Anand Naidoo writes from Washington DC: With reference to David Bullard's otherwise excellent piece, to set the record straight: I have never worked for the SABC under the apartheid government. I joined the SABC in February of 1994, two months before the first all-race democratic election at a time when the white National Party had already relinquished control of the SABC. An interim, transitional management was already in place. My supervisor and editor at the time was Joe Tholoe. Thanks and kind regards
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