The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have necessitated drastic operational changes at South Africa’s major TV broadcasters.
The SABC and Etv have implemented several measures to ensure they are able to continue providing programming to South Africans.
This includes their role as media institutions, which is regarded as an essential service during the lockdown.
These broadcasters play an important role in providing South Africans with important information and updates about the coronavirus pandemic.
As the country’s public broadcaster, the SABC is mandated to use its channels to keep the South African public informed.
SABC Spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo told MyBroadband the organisation has undertaken a number of initiatives to assist with nationwide efforts to reduce COVID-19 infections and curb the spread of the virus.
“From the onset, the SABC as the primary carrier of public content and messaging has had to put contingency and disaster recovery plans in place to ensure that the corporation continues to serve its public service mandate by keeping the nation informed during the lockdown period,” Seapolelo stated.
“Critically, the public broadcaster’s role is to ensure that millions of South Africans are provided with important and credible information regarding COVID-19 across its television, radio and digital platforms,” Seapolelo said.
Business continuity measures
Seapolelo detailed a number of activities the SABC has undertaken to ensure it is able to continue operations.
Examples of major activities include:
- Establishing an off-site broadcast area which is capacitated with numerous Outside Broadcast (OB) vehicles which cater for television and radio broadcasts.
- Displacing revenue-generating programming across platforms through simulcast on its free-to-air channels to accommodate all public announcements and media briefings relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Amplifying news and current affairs content.
- Focussing general programming more on information regarding COVID-19.
- Partnering with the Department of Basic Education regarding a multimedia learner support programme.
On the issue of content, Seapolelo said the SABC had enough material for certain programming, but the continued broadcasting of local content is still the subject of discussions.
“Currently, the SABC has a sufficient soapie content offering to cover the duration of the lockdown period, and crucial engagements are held with relevant stakeholders concerning the organisation’s delivery on the set local content quotas, as well as possible essential service permission for certain productions,” Seapolelo said.
Effects on safety and staff
Seapolelo noted that the SABC is not considering salary cuts at the moment, as this would “impact the livelihoods of its employees”.
She stated that the broadcaster has prioritised the health and safety of the staff members required to deliver its service.
While many employers have let their workers perform their duties remotely, this was not possible for all jobs within the SABC.
“Given the essential service that the SABC provides, the organisation had to make swift and important decisions regarding its employees,” Seapolelo said.
One of these decisions was that staff performing certain “critical business continuity services” would be required to report to the respective SABC offices during the lockdown.
Those who are able to perform their duties remotely have been permitted to do so.
Etv Managing Director Marlon Davids noted that the free-to-air-broadcaster has been able to continue broadcasting during the lockdown.
“Our channels have remained operational during the lockdown period despite us reducing the amount of staff who access our premises,” David said.
He added that many functions were being carried out remotely by employees working from home.
For situations where employees are required to report to Etv’s premises, hygiene protocol was aligned with the WHO’s advice, Davids said.
“Where employees are still performing specified functions on our premises, we are following the measures and guidelines prescribed by the World Health Organisation to minimise the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” he stated.
The broadcaster was unable to comment on questions about potential salary cuts and retrenchments.