The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has some great news for South Africans: it will soon be launching a 24-hour news channel in all local languages on both digital terrestrial television (DTT) and SABC+.
The public broadcaster announced on 9 January that the new channel is part of efforts to satisfy the needs of its growing audience, “which is well above 10 million”, SABC group chief executive officer for news and current affairs, Moshoeshoe Monare said on SABC’s MorningLive show.
“Millions of South Africans depend on us as a source of news. More than 10 million people a day look forward to watching the news in their own languages,” he said.
[COMING UP]— MorningLiveSABC (@MorningLiveSABC) January 9, 2023
In an effort to satisfy the growing audience, the SABC is launching a 24 hour News Channel for African languages on DTT and #SABCplus. We speak to SABC's Group Executive for News and Current Affairs @moshoeshoeMN. #MorningLive #SABCNews pic.twitter.com/80qnGMCHZ9
The channel will cater for audiences in all official languages except English because it already has a 24-hour news channel on DStv’s satellite network – channel 404.
News, current affairs and sport, both local and international, will be covered, while parliamentary proceedings and content will be broadcast and translated into all languages to help South Africans gain a better understanding of our policies and legislations.
“As a public broadcaster, we’ve got this responsibility, both morally and constitutionally, to make sure that we reflect the diversity and plurality of the South African society, and give our content in all our 11 languages,” said Monare.
The new channel will be called “Kaya”, which means home in a number of local languages.
There is already a radio station in Johannesburg called Kaya FM, which broadcasts adult contemporary music.
SABC previously had a news channel which carried news bulletins in Afrikaans, Siswati, Tsonga, Xhosa, isiNdebele, Sotho and Venda on SABC1 and SABC2 throughout the day between 2013 and 2015. It was dropped shortly after Multichoice decided to expand the SABC news channel into the rest of Africa, leaving space for the English news channel only.
This relaunch comes after seven years of internal discussions and planning.
Currently, the SABC carries news bulletins in Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaans at prime time every day and alternates between Venda/Tsonga, Setswana/Sotho/Sepedi and Siswati/ isiNdebele news every two days on its free-to-air platforms.
The key advantage of a 24-hour news channel is that all audiences can access the news at any time, at every hour, instead of waiting for the news bulletin at prime time.
But, launching a new channel comes with challenges, especially for the SABC which has been marred by years of financial woes resulting in major job losses.
According to financial statements, the public broadcaster’s revenue increased by R90 million (2%) in 2021/2022, but it is yet to realise revenue levels achieved in 2020 after audience shares declined. The company reported that despite trimming its net loss by R329 million (62%) compared to the 2020/2021 financial year, it is still in the red.
The SABC projects an increase in revenue over the 2022/2023 financial year as initiatives are in progress to “mitigate the risk”.
Journalism Professor and executive director at the Campaign for Free Expression, Anton Harber, said that while this is a “fresh and interesting development,” and the SABC should be commended for bringing news in more languages to underserved audiences, it raises questions about how the channel will operate.
Costs are a major concern.
“The SABC can produce such a channel cheaper than anyone else, as they already have a lot of the resources, including the biggest newsroom in the country. But to do it well is another thing. It will be expensive to do it properly, without doubt. I hope the incoming SABC board will see the value and importance of this, and give it proper support,” he said.
Frayintermedia reached out to the SABC for more details ahead of the launch, but the specifics are yet to be released to the public.
Media practitioner, Slindile Khanyile, head of digital publications and co-director at Likhanye, an education service and media company with a focus on the Zulu language said the launch of the channel is long overdue.
“For a country where the majority of the population speaks Zulu (23%) and Xhosa (16%) according to Stats SA, it is a no-brainer to invest more in vernacular content. I think that it is a sign that we are also finally moving into a direction where we are taking audiences seriously”
Khanyile has previous experience as an editor at Zulu-language Isolezwe and her company recently launched its own Zulu business publication called Umbele as well as its own Zulu education and careers publication, Umkhanyisi.
She said it is a market that is grossly underserved, especially where specialist news content is concerned.
In South Africa, at least 141 publications out of 226 publications are non-English, according to the latest State of the Newsroom report published by the Wits Centre for Journalism. This is a slight increase from 2016 when only 123 publications out of 204 were in a language other than English.
The SABC is the only South African mainstream broadcaster to carry news in local languages.