Thursday, August 21, 2014

BREAKING. As SA parliament erupts, eNCA on DStv shines with insta-excellent coverage, SABC News and ANN7 shock with lack of real-time news.

It's shocking and highly revealing: As South Africa's parliament erupted into chaos on Thursday and DStv's Parliamentary TV channel abruptly cut away so viewers couldn't see what was happening, the eNCA (DStv 403) 24-hour TV news channel instantly mobilised with brilliant, ongoing, real-time coverage and on-the-spot analysis.

The same however couldn't be said for the eye-popping lack of almost any coverage and lack of rolling real-time coverage and analysis on DStv's rival 24-hour TV news channels: SABC News (DStv 404) and ANN7 (DStv 405).

It was as if eNCA was covering one South Africa in one parallel universe, with SABC News and ANN7 covering (or not covering) a whole other South Africa.

Ironically ANN7 celebrates its first birthday today, but shockingly left viewers scrathing their heads in early primetime as to where the coverage of breaking news was. SABC News and ANN7 both paled in comparison when it came to doing and giving TV news viewers the most fundamental thing they want: the news as it is happening.

As DStv subscribers flicked between the three TV news channels in the early evening for coverage, eNCA had instant interviews with politicians from all of the political parties straight from parliament and live on air, studio analysis from experts, rush reports, as well as can't-look-away sensational video footage.

eNCA even played the parliamentary proceedings leading up to the EFF disruption of the National Assembly several times to give viewers the undiluted context and background.

eNCA's Paula Chowles and Lester Kiewit were astounding in their reporting and interviewing and real-time online and social media content generation. With little time to think, they were on the scene and kept reporting - brilliantly so.

eNCA's interview with Julius Malema done by Paula Chowles was riveting and exceptional television - she didn't interrupt him, and Julius Malema stayed on point and did what was probably his best live TV interview ever.

The rest, well, on South African television news there wasn't really a rest.

SABC News sat comfy under the warm spotlights in the Auckland Park studio at the same time and ran a pre-recorded profile piece on an African Bank founder.

SABC Television News couldn't get itself to break away to cover the real big news of the moment - not even from the studio. There was no real-time rolling news coverage. SABC News kept playing its Question Time (irrelevant!) and other programming and inserts, instead of switching to rolling news and giving South African the news.

ANN7 at the same time did high-gloss soft coverage about its South African of the Year campaign.

ANN7 also failed to break away to rolling news coverage to cover the real big news of the moment, and stuck to running a pre-recorded programme with Chantal Rutter-Dros moderating a women's panel of nominees.

It was shocking and eye-opening to watch eNCA, SABC News and ANN7 lined-up alongside each other and to see only one of the three South African 24-hour TV news channels doing ... live, real, relevant, news.

Later during South African primetime ANN7 eventually got to rolling news coverage, live reporting, as well as analysis.

The SABC News channel sadly remained blissfully ignorant and kept viewers blissfully ignorant.

If you watched only SABC News, a viewer wouldn't have gotten any sense of the scope, impact and magnitude of what happened today in South Africa and in parliament with very little coverage compared to eNCA and (belatedly) ANN7.

Later SABC News did as little as possible with blatant skewed coverage, censorship, pandering questions to make the EFF look bad, a shocking absence of SABC News reporting from Cape Town, and no coverage at all of the highly embarrassing way the speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete was inept and pathetic today.

The shocking and stark difference in the real, in-time news coverage for serious South African breaking news - and the lack thereof - raises questions about whether the SABC's SABC News channel and Infinity Media's ANN7 are self-censoring, or whether the issue is the inability to mobilise to cover news when it breaks.

Or, is it perhaps not self-censorship but more an issue regarding the unwillingness of channel and programming bosses to jettison pre-planned programming for actual real and live news coverage when news breaks, or the lack of resources to be able to do rolling news coverage when something big happens?

Also, for a 24-hour TV news channel, to wait with the news, or big news, makes no sense. eNCA dove into it and stayed with it the whole time. SABC News seemingly couldn't care less or cope. ANN7 eventually got to it but came across as wanting the big news to fit for ANN7 Prime. Sadly news doesn't wait or work that way.

The best thing a TV news channel like an eNCA, a SABC News or a ANN7 can do to build its brand, to build its credibility and to build its reputation as "oh, news is happening, where do I tune to for it?" is to cover real news, and to cover real news consistently, whenever it happens.

If not, your TV news channel becomes a "nice, but not necessary" news source - a soft, infotainment, educational but not crucial, place where viewers won't be turning to first, if at all, to get the news.

If you want to be in the news business (as a TV news channel), really only just one rule actually applies: Do the news.