Move over Sky and CNN, South African television news is set to become pretty slick. When viewers tune into the country’s first local 24-hour news channel next month, they can expect a hi -tech spectacle with touch screens, high-definition cameras and an interactive studio to rival those of the world’s biggest networks.
Some of South Africa’s best-known TV personalities will be anchors on the eNews Channel’s bulletins, including Jeremy Maggs and Redi Direko, who will host the flagship show, News Night, from 7pm to 9pm on weekdays.
The programming includes a morning news show, an afternoon update, an African news round-up, current affairs shows and sports wraps.
The channel will be on DStv, because the broadcaster decided against setting up its own independent satellite network, instead opting for instant access to Multichoice’s 1.5 million subscribers. For those without DStv, the news programming on e.tv will continue as usual.
Ten years after the launch of its terrestrial free-to-air station, e.tv is set to become a big player in the news business — possibly the biggest if the multibillion-rand Telkom TV, which was also set to include a news channel, doesn’t take off.
In preparation for the move, e.tv bosses spent two years visiting the best channels in the world to find out how it all works. “We’ve been on several study tours,” said eNews Channel’s group news editor, Debora Patta.
“We visited BBC News 24, Sky News, Al Jazeera and the American networks ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CNN.
“Essentially, that was to see how it was done, because rolling out 24-hour news is very different to preparing for one big bulletin at the end of the day. (We also looked at) the technology they employed in the studio, the layout and everything,” Patta said.
No expense was spared in kitting out the newsroom. The multilevel studio resembles that of Sky News and CNN and includes touch-screen plasma televisions that act as virtual chalkboards on which presenters can highlight information — similar to those used by CNN in their coverage of the US primary elections.
The channel has hired qualified meteorologists who are being trained as presenters by a US expert, to handle weather reports.
Cameramen in the field will be equipped with new high-definition gear and a number of satellite news-gathering vehicles have been ordered.
The station is hiring 179 new staff across the country and the channel ultimately aims to have offices in major centres in the rest of Africa. “But we are doing it all slowly,” said Patta, who is cautious about South Africa’s volatile broadcasting climate.
The SABC is in chaos after news chief Snuki Zikalala and chief executive Dali Mpofu were both suspended this week.
And Telkom Media, which recruited former SABC news head Jimi Matthews and former Johncom chief executive Connie Molusi, closed ranks after parent company Telkom announced in March that it was cutting its investment in the station from R7.5-billion to R5.3-billion.
The network is floundering and scrambling for new sponsors, and could miss its 2008 launch date.
Telkom Media spokesman Chris van Zyl said this week that although employees were still arriving for work and the broadcast centre was under construction, there remained little clarity on the station’s future.
“It is difficult for us to comment on anything until Telkom makes an announcement about what is going on with its disinvestment.”