The wait is finally over! After a week of people holding their collective breath, the new 24-hour news channel for DStv has been announced.
Newzroom Afrika was chosen, a choice that caught many off guard. It is the brainchild of television production entrepreneurs Thokozani Nkosi of Eclipse TV and Thabile Ngwato of Rapid Innovation.
“Their bid stood out for its potential to bring a fresh, creative and diversified approach to news reporting, which included an integrated digital strategy, combined with sound audience analysis and appealing on-screen execution,” DStv said in a statement.
“We’re committed to providing independent and dependable reporting, and will deliver that through our strong editorial team,” said Ngwato “We’ll be sharing further details about the channel in the coming weeks.”
An obscured selection process
MultiChoice said 111 expressions of interest were submitted for the new channel. One criticism levelled against the broadcaster was the lack of further information it provided around the selection process and those in the running for selection.
“They didn’t tell us how Newzroom Afrika scored and they didn’t tell us about the other bidders. So, in as much as it sounds promising, there are still very legitimate fears and concerns about the process that MultiChoice followed,” said William Bird, executive director of Media Monitoring Africa.
He added that he would like to see the share structure of the company revealed and thoroughly investigated. “It’s well and fine to have good people involved, as they did at the start of ANN7, but pretty soon there was a steady exodus … For MultiChoice not to open these things up to scrutiny, I think, was a profound error on their part,” Bird said.
The team behind the channel
Newzroom Afrika has assembled an experienced editorial team, with television executive Zanele Mthembu heading up the broadcast operation and veteran news media executive and journalist, Malebo Phage, overseeing the newsroom.
An editorial ethics oversight board will also be in place, spearheaded by press ombud Joe Thloloe and Dinesh Balliah.
Both Bird and Kate Skinner, executive director of the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), are encouraged by the involvement of Thloloe and Balliah to try and ensure editorial independence and impartiality, with the latter commenting.
“It seems MultiChoice did go through a really rigorous process in terms of choosing a new bid, which is a good thing. Also, what we’re very happy to see is the ethics structure they have set up with two absolute stalwarts of the industry.”
But they both cautioned that the proof would be in the pudding.
Editorial independence crucial
“Today marks the birth of an exciting new and independent media voice in South Africa. We set out to find a quality new, black-owned, independent news channel to expand the diversity of South African news and enrich our democracy – we’re excited by the outcome,” commented MultiChoice SA, CEO Calvo Mawela.
“Independent, trustworthy media are essential to a healthy democracy and the calibre of journalists on the Newzroom Afrika team will ensure that this new channel plays its part with distinction,” he added.
The parties will start negotiating the terms of a Channel Distribution Agreement shortly.
MultiChoice was looking for a distinctly different news channel to what is currently available, which made Newzroom Afrika a perfect fit. “We want to drive sustainable transformation in the television industry and to contribute to the diversity of views in our country and our continent,” explained Mawela.
The Twitterverse reacts
Predictably, reactions on Twitter were mixed, with many questioning the weird spelling of the company’s name.
I’m suspicious of a media company that uses gimmicky spelling, like #NewzroomAfrika. It takes away from their credibility. It’s hard news, for heavens’ sake, not the Kardashians. Unless it intends reporting for a Kardashian audience?
— Kerry Phillips (@KerryPhillips14) August 28, 2018
Negativity. The channel hasn’t even gone live and there already prophets of doom. Wish we could learn to give room for people to succeed. It’s a huge step for all involved. #NewzroomAfrika
— Pearl Shongwe (@Pearl_Shongwe) August 28, 2018
— Trisha Pillay (@Trishpill) August 28, 2018
Mmhhh #newsroomafrica #newzroomafrika
Sometimes we assume we can run the comrades marathon. Because we have ran for years, and are fit but realise that being a runner and being an ultra marathon runner is not the same WhatsApp group. News anchor to owner of channel-a Ke sure! pic.twitter.com/qw0AWZfsem
— Ginger™© (@gingerlovesBenz) August 28, 2018
A big congratulations to the founders of #newzroomAfrika and I wish you the best of luck and success. But why the weird spelling? ? Already turning traditional journalism on its head? https://t.co/Nquac7XiwG
— Rahima Essop (@rahimaessop) August 28, 2018
Other than the terrible name, let’s see what narrative will be put forward. Fortunately we live in a society where press freedom exists – looking forward to hearing a different perspective. #newzroomafrika
— GoldVundu (@GVundu) August 28, 2018
“#NewzroomAfrika” really? out of all the beautiful names out there, anyway i just hope it’s not a Rupert channel.
— The Citizen (@SouthAfrican__) August 28, 2018
As much as it is my responsibility to teach my kids. Imagine they are watching a news Chanel that spells News as “Newz”. Why couldn’t they just go with the correct spelling of News!? #NewzRoomAfrika #Newzroom
— Philani Sikho (@SikhoPhilani) August 28, 2018
The selection process
A MultiChoice cross-functional team of experts stress-tested the bids against rigorous and objective selection criteria. All bidders were then further subjected to an independent and enhanced due diligence investigation process conducted by Thomson-Reuters, which included verification of their B-BBEE and ownership credentials, and a thorough analysis of the reputational risk profiles of all corporations and individuals involved. Only those bidders meeting the requirements were eligible for final shortlisting
Two committees were set up to evaluate and review the bids:
- A cross-functional team comprising a MultiChoice senior leadership group from its Finance, Broadcast Technology, Content, Digital Media, On Air Sales, Enterprise Development, Empowerment, Legal, Internal Audit and Procurement functions
- A steering committee made up of the Video Entertainment CEO, MultiChoice SA CEO, Video Entertainment CFO, CEO for General Entertainment, CEO for Myriad and the Video Entertainment Group General Counsel.
The cross-functional team conducted the evaluation, shortlisted bidders for the next rounds and made recommendations to the steering committee, which reviewed and interrogated the recommendations. The steering committee then made the final recommendations to the MultiChoice SA board.
The requirements for the new channel were publicly communicated and required the channel to:
- Be owned, managed and operated by an independent black South African owned company
- Be a South African, predominantly English –language, news channel that takes into account the history, diversity of cultural backgrounds, languages and socio-economic circumstances in South Africa
- Broadcast 24 hours per day
- Provide anchor-based, live broadcasts in the style of Al Jazeera, CNN, Sky, eNCA, SABC news and others
- Specially focus on national, regional, local and African news, actuality, current affairs and sport with less focus on International affairs
- Focus on training and development of news and broadcast industry personnel
- Foster strong ownership mentality with employees and partners through mechanisms such as employee equity and/ or incentive schemes
- Be independent, non-partisan, unbiased and critical – MultiChoice to have no editorial control or ownership
- Be widely distributed on DStv packages
- Receive funding from MultiChoice and other sources
- Add to media diversity and plurality
- Encourage new entrants into the media fraternity
Michael Bratt is a multimedia journalist at Wag the Dog, publishers of The Media Online and The Media. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelBratt8