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Thursday, November 6, 2014

BREAKING. Sabido, e.tv admit problems with the processes of eNCA's eyebrow-raising infrastructure documentary series.


Sabido the parent company of broadcaster e.tv and the independent 24-hour TV news channel eNCA (DStv 403) on MultiChoice's DStv is now admitting that there were problems with the processes of, and that "lines blurred", with the South Africa infrastructure documentary series shown on eNCA earlier this year.

Although the documentary series is not an "infomercial" and the government paid for separate TV commercials on eNCA, the department of economic development has been using the documentaries as commercials, clearly being very happy and of the opinion that it reflects very well on the government's infrastructure development initiatives.

Sabido, e.tv and eNCA are mired in scandal the past two weeks, with huge brand and reputational damage which has been inflicted following a bitter management meltdown behind the scenes.

It saw both its CEO Marcel Golding and then its COO Bronwyn Keene-Young abruptly quit last week amidst shocking allegations of  government and corporate interference in the eNews and eNCA news divisions.

Emails and court documents laid bare how badly e.tv's eNews and eNCA had been allegedly compromised in terms of news integrity, credibility and brand reputation.

That happened due to alleged pressure on the broadcaster to do legitimate news coverage on the one hand, and on the other hand to do positive government news coverage as a result of corporate lobbying efforts to get the South African government to side with e.tv on the issue of set-top box (STB) control and e.tv favouring an encryption system for digital terrestrial television (DTT).

In a statement today - following an earlier statement when Sabido's chief operating officer (COO) Mark Rosin didn't answer specific questions put to Sabido over the documentary series specifically - Mark Rosin now admits that "there were problems which should have been foreseen" with the documentary series and that Sabido, e.tv and eNCA are "reviewing the process internally and what transpired".

It's now clear that the South African government did pay money to eNCA for TV adverts which ran on eNCA - commercials that ran separately from the documentary series.

What is not clear is whether the documentaries series would have been commissioned, would have been broadcast, and would have existed at all if the government didn't pay for adverts or didn't take a commercial ad campaign on eNCA.

Questions about this, specifically made to Sabido last week in a media enquiry, remain unanswered.

It creates a murky situation where, whether real or perceived, viewers and media experts no longer know for sure, in terms of the eNCA editorial content, what came first: the chicken or the egg as far as this documentary series is concerned.

Mark Rosin, in today's statement, says "lines appear to have been blurred between an undertaking to report on infrastructure development in South Africa and a commitment by [the department of] economic development to spend advertising on the channel".

"The perception that the news was paid for is deeply regrettable and we wish to assure our audiences that eNews remains an impartial and independent news outlet," says Mark Rosin.

Patrick Conroy, managing director of news at e.tv and eNCA says "the news division should have been more directly involved in the discussions at the time".

Although the government paid for commercials on eNCA - and it being unclear whether the documentary series would have made it to broadcast if the government didn't advertise on the channel as well - Patrick Conroy now says that "boundaries of editorial control were not clear" but that "at no point did our editors surrender control".

Today's statement now also signals that eNCA executives knew there were problems with the documentary series before problems with it were revealed, as collateral damage, by Marcel Golding in his court documents two weeks ago to try and prevent his suspension.

Patrick Conroy, using past tense in the today's statement says that "news management agreed afterwards that in future clearer rules and policies were needed to avoid confusion between commercial messages and editorial ones".

Patrick Conroy says that "as a result of the issues we have not entered into any similar agreements subsequently. It was open to misinterpretation and could be confused with advertorial content. Work on clearer policies and guidelines began once these issues were raised".

Patrick Conroy says: "Viewers should at all times be comforted in the knowledge of the fact that what they're watching is independently produced by our news division. Where necessary, disclosures should be included to reinforce this."


Correction 17:43 : This story was changed, amended and updated from a first posted version at 14:33 to more accurately reflect the issue. The first version of this article stated that the government paid for the documentary series on eNCA. The government paid for separate TV commercials, on the eNCA channel. - Ed.