Tuesday, March 10, 2015

OPINION. Points for transparency for MultiChoice and for Viacom International Media Networks Africa. Or not. How open is SA's TV biz really?

It remains interesting to me as a journalist covering the TV industry on behalf of viewers, those working in it and those interested in this business, to see how transparent, open and willing to give a straight, honest answer, companies, people and spokespeople paid to communicate on behalf of their brands are. 

Or not.

Last week came the announcement that Top Actor SA, a new local reality show with presenter Zikhona Sodlaka will start on BET on channel 129 on MultiChoice's DStv satellite pay-TV platform apparently early in April.  

BET International from Viacom International Media Networks Africa (VIMN Africa) is however shown on channel 135, not 129 on MultiChoice's DStv which remains vacant. So I asked both MultiChoice and VIMN Africa about it.

I asked MultiChoice about Top Actor SA produced by Urban Brew Studios, and that, since there isn't a DStv channel on channel 129, whether a new BET channel is being added and how that would be different from the existing BET.

MultiChoice's communications people responded that when there's any announcement to be made about new channels, the press will be informed - the usual stock phrase. 

VIMN Africa's spokesperson Alison Reid was also asked, who told me there's "nothing concrete we can tell you" and that VIMN Africa would prefer that I didn't base any reporting on uncorroborated coverage from third parties.

The interesting and ironic thing here is that is why I'm asking the official spokesperson and people in the first place - who then are not willing to confirm or give the (right) information to a journalist who took the time and effort to track a story and to seek comment through a media enquiry.

Before I was a TV critic and a journalist covering just the TV industry in South Africa, I was a news editor at a magazine and before that one a broadsheet newspaper. Before that I was a general news reporter and even before that a financial journalist.

I've covered almost every industry and every type of beat. 

Not just now, but still - about 15 years later and still writing TV stories - it always remains striking for me how closed, closely-guarded, generally scared, largely opaque, reactive, stone-walling, and overly sensitive South Africa's TV industry at large specifically remains.

Whereas a lot of other sectors and industries are much more responsive to be open - and I know, I've covered them and dealt with them - the TV companies and places and people in South Africa working in TV are mostly not.

The SABC, which used to be much, much better, and its slide, is another great example. The same with TopTV which became StarSat and a range of TV channels from A to Z, the proverbial ANN7 to Zee World. 

Why is giving a journalist who asks you something, an honest, responsive and "real" answer, so difficult for so many?

I have my own ideas of why actual real news and coverage about the TV biz in South Africa is so deplorably bad and its mostly two reasons.

Unlike journalists covering politics and economics asking tough and hard questions, the journalists covering TV are few, not well-informed, more entertainment reporters in it for parties and celebrity access and glam goodie bags, and their coverage more reactive (taking press releases very obediently when issued and dishing it up as news), than pro-actively covering a specific beat and reporting real news. 

It makes communication teams, PR companies and spokespeople working in TV "lazy" or perhaps unaccustomed to actually getting media enquiries that's not based on press releases; and perhaps not used to having marketing or publicity plans being "spoilt" by informed journalists asking questions.

I was taught - and that's also mostly how it happened when I covered the insurance industry, banks, Eskom (when the lights first started to go out), the collapse of Health & Racquet Club and retail - that if you ask something as a journalist, they will give you the most accurate answer they can, because you asked, or because you asked first. 

In TV, trying to track numerous channels, providers, institutions, production companies and people, I have to often ask numerous times. Often getting not even a basic acknowledgement of a media enquiry. Or you're ignored or told off. 

The very least MultiChoice and VIMN Africa could have done with BET was to have said "You know what, that is actually correct, we can't give more information than that, but what is already out there is accurate". 

In South Africa's TV biz, very unlike America, its still mostly a case of whether you ask or not, we will communicate what we want, when we want. Or if we don't like you, or what you're writing, or asking, we will unilaterally "ban" you.

That is not transparency. And that's not good for South Africa's TV biz as a whole.