Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BREAKING. Former Big Brother SA contestant will be covering the Oscar Pistorius murder trial on TV for MultiChoice's DStv channel.

Damaging the credibility of its soon to launch Oscar Pistorius murder trial TV channel, MultiChoice will employ a former Big Brother South Africa reality housemate contestant to cover the Oscar Pistorius TV murder trial during the month of March on its special DStv channel starting 2 March.

Combined Artistic Productions which produces Carte Blanche for M-Net as its Sunday evening weekly investigate show, will be doing the Oscar Pistorius TV trial for DStv using the Big Brother South Africa contestant Leigh Bennie as an on-screen presenter.

The former reality show star who became a radio host will be part of the Oscar Pistorius editorial team to "provide fascinating insights" although Leigh Bennie has zero journalistic history of crime reporting, court reporting and no bona fide credentials for longtime investigative journalism.

Leigh Bennie has worked at an airport and hosted radio programmes.

It's not immediately clear what MultiChoice and Combined Artistic Productions' reasons are for the inclusion of Leigh Bennie - a statement was issued late on Thursday just before the close of the work day and a media enquiry was subsequently not immediately answered.

The statement only refers to Leigh Bennie having experience but doesn't elaborate.

Compared with a Karyn Maughan, the excellent and experienced court, crime and specialist reporter who will for instance cover the Oscar Pretorius murder trial for eNCA (DStv 403), the jaw-dropping addition of Leigh Bennie to cover and comment on a serious court trial where someone is accused of premeditated murder is  incredulous.

Like The SABC's Hlaudi Motsoeneng and the Nelson Mandela ANC organised memorial service with fake sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie, the addition and inclusion of Leigh Bennie with "Big Brother South Africa contestant" on her resume, makes not just her seem unqualified for the position - it makes the DStv channel seem low rate and oddly without pedigree.

It is inconceivable that a show like 60 Minutes in America, the authoritative investigative magazine show that Carte Blanche is based on, would ever add a former Big Brother America contestant to its on-screen talent roster without possibly years and years of applicable study and proven work, but in South Africa it's happening and for a very high-profile murder case.

By adding a former Big Brother South African contestant to DStv's Oscar Pistorius Trial TV channel, it damages the perception of what Carte Blanche is on M-Net, what Combined Artistic Productions will be producing and providing for the specific channel; also where DStv is pegged when news consumers are going to make choices of where they will be getting what kind and type of news regarding the Oscar Pistorius trial.

Isn't it news channel ANN7 which appointed models to read the news who haven't studied journalism and struggle to read but got to sit at the anchor desk - a place that other people on television have to work for years to achieve?

Isn't it SABC1 which does a discriminatory regional "talent" search in just KwaZulu-Natal for a red carpet reporter for the MetroFM Awards - a deceptively difficult job which should only be given to the best and proven people who've worked their way up through many years, and events and covering entertainment junkets?

Surely Combined Artistic Productions, Carte Blanche, M-Net and DStv are "better" than this?

It raises questions: Is this the best that the people putting this channel then could come up with? Because a former Big Brother South African contestant as one of the on-air talent covering a murder trial is definitely not enhancing the pedigree of whatever product your pumping to the public.

Leigh Bennie whose contract with 702 was not renewed in 2013 shockingly suddenly popped up in October on M-Net's Carte Blanche as a presenter after she was axed, in what is regarded as a prestige position in a prestige programme, reserved for experienced on-air talent and journalists who've proved their journalistic credentials and skills over many years.

Now the Big Brother contestant who appeared in the lowbrow reality format in 2001 and who has no legal background, will weigh in for South African viewers along with a team of TV presenters from a special studio in Johannesburg, with regular live crossings from on-air talent based at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

The inclusion of a perfunctory Leigh Bennie who will appear on the channel without any history of real court reporting, real crime reporting, or longtime investigative reporting skills, now appears to sway the slant of the Oscar Pistorius trial TV channel - before its starts on 2 March - into a decidedly tabloid direction.

It could have been that it was the scope and slant of the channel all along - MultiChoice when it first announced the channel for March, didn't give an indication of whether the Oscar Pretorius Trial TV channel would tilt towards reali-trash or credible, fact-based coverage.

Will Leigh Bennie become South Africa's Nancy Grace talking head - weighing in not on "Octomom" and "Tot mom" but "Oscoshot" and "Bladegunner"?

Will Leigh Bennie rope in analysts and commentators like her former Big Brother South Africa reali-trash housemates to comment - like "Bad Bad" on his personal experiences of the South African justice and legal system?

Or perhaps Ferdinand Rabie will talk about how bad things are when you're caught on camera doing something you shouldn't do?

The line between tabloid and terrific fact-based coverage is fine. The jarring inclusion of a Leigh Bennie instantly creates a hill that MultiChoice's Oscar Pistorius trial TV channel on DStv now has to climb if it wants to appear to be a legitimate and real TV channel or having any semblance of broadcasting gravitas.