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The News We Deserve

By Sean Ross

sean.jpgThe News We Deserve

For weeks on end the marketing department of E-News, South Africa’s first 24-hour television news channel, were promising viewers that as of launch date on June 1, paying customers would finally be receiving “The news you deserve”.

Naturally I started wondering how I had managed all these years to be duped into paying for news that I did not deserve. Perhaps that was why I mostly received bad news. Also, if E-News was finally to transmit news viewers deserved, what would the strategists at BBC World, CNN, Sky Television and Euro News, who share a domestic delivery platform with E-News, make of their supposedly “undeserving’ news content?

As an aside I wondered too what these global news channels were making of the frequent intrusions the new E-News evening anchors were making into their very own ad-break spaces, enticing news hungry South Africans with their delectable platter. Of course with E-News being owned by DSTV, which is South Africa’s only digital satellite television provider and, as mentioned, platform host for BBC, Sky etc, manipulating ad space is I guess one of the cozy in-house benefits of being DSTV.

And I finally wondered about the forty-five-odd million South Africans, amounting to probably 90% of the population, who can’t afford the US $60 per month DSTV subscription fee. How would they have felt had they known that as of June 1 they would be missing out on the news that they too, presumably, deserve but for the price tag. Then again they have probably been numbed by exposure to subsidized, state-generated broadcast news which, by E-News’s implication, would have been news they certainly did not deserve, and which, by fact, would have proven to be correct.

Nonetheless, the date duly arrived and the launch was finally underway and Channel 403 was alive with glitzy E-News news, E-News sport, E-News finance and E-News weather, and I sat back expectantly awaiting the new news I so richly deserved. After a few minor technical hitches, and with a format and style remarkably similar to those of Sky and BBC World, my news week started to roll as follows:

The News Week That Was

On Monday June 2 the South African central bank governor suggested that the 450 basis point hike in interest rates over the past 24 months was having little effect in quelling runaway inflation and that stiffer hikes of the order of up to 200 basis points could be in the offing at the banks next policy meeting later this week. With a debt servicing ratio at a phenomenally high 80% and with one of the lowest savings rates in the world, this was just what deserving buyers of South African news wanted to hear. Later on the same day our generosity of spirit as a nation was cemented with the staggering government announcement that South Africa would donate all of US $185,000 to the quake relief effort in China. That is a massive US $0.004 cents per citizen. I started feeling better.

Then on Tuesday the country’s largest bank, ABSA, stepped up to the plate to inform homeowners that real house price growth fell in May to its lowest level in 9 years, and that further price declines were inevitable as a result of the central bank’s hawkish interest rate policy, affirmed by the bank governor the day before of course.

Wednesday’s news day began with the government announcement that gasoline prices for the month of June are to rise a further 5%, bringing the cost of a liter to the magical R10 mark (US $1.25), a price thought laughable at the start of the year. Of course having a government which guzzles up a great portion of that R10 through an assortment of exorbitant levies and taxes does not sit easily with the already impoverished majority, who were again later in the day warned by the erstwhile bank governor that food prices, already up 18% over the past year and on which these poor spend 50% of their income, were to shoot higher still.

Come Thursday and Kenyan PM Raila Odinga berates an already embarrassed South African public for having failed Zimbabwe as Africans. Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town Odinga was ironically sharing the platform with none other than South Africa’s limp dog President Thabo Mbeki, the man who perpetually runs out the “No Crisis in Zimbabwe” refrain. Mbeki, who incredibly again re-iterated this view this week, has overseen virtually all of the catastrophic meltdown of his northern neighbor despite being charged, as key diplomat, with finding a free democratic solution for Zimbabwe. I thought I had consumed my fill of deserving news for the day only to see the boss of mismanaged Eskom, South Africa’s state electricity supplier, make yet another plea at the same Forum, for an horrendous 53% hike in electricity tariffs this financial year to cover previous financial blunders.

The finally Friday’s news day kicked off with South Africa’s now globally infamous “garlic and beetroot as AIDS cure” Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, accountable for so much that has gone wrong with this country’s horrendous HIV/AIDS policy, breaking the encouraging news that the infection rate amongst 25-29 year-olds had indeed fallen to a numbingly high 37.9% in 2007 from 38.7% the year before. Given the standard 2-5% margin for error associated with these types of surveys, it is as likely that the infection rate was stagnant or might even have increased, given the nation’s declining faith in this government’s ability to get to grips with the disease. Of course it is no secret that South Africa has the highest number of HIV infected persons in the world at around 5 million. After years of campaigning by AIDS activists, the government is finally getting some momentum behind its anti-retroviral treatment program, and currently treats over 450,000 HIV sufferers, another world record for a government.

So there passed my first week of deserving news, served up round the clock, repeated at regular intervals, interspersed with the usual cuts to sport, finance and weather. I guess you cannot fault our new 24-hour E-News channel for sticking to its guns and finally delivering to us, the affording 10% of the nation, the news we so richly deserve.

Sean Ross is a travel writer, raconteur and South African travel professional located on the South Coast of KwaZulu/Natal