Let TV tell our own stories

16 March 2016

By Harold Maloka

The introduction of television in our country in 1976 played a central role in bringing families together and most importantly building communities. Apartheid spatial development created townships and other communities without electricity and other amenities which had an unintended positive effect on families coming together.

Traditionally, families would come together over fire; when electricity came and television was introduced, the gatherings were over television. There was programming which appealed to families, made them laugh and bond.

These programmes that bring back great memories to many include dramas like Ponko, MmaLonya, Bophelo ke Semphego, Lesilo Rula, Hlala kwa bafileyo. They brought amusement, laughter, were educative, promoted languages and instilled values such as respect for the elders and the promotion of family units. They were a reflection of our lives.

Come a certain time we all rushed to a certain household to watch these dramas. Gathered would be elders and children all glued to the television enjoying community time together. This made families and communities to have stronger bonds and promoted social cohesion. The jury is still out whether today’s productions have the same effect, though as the society evolves, everything else should follow.

The Broadcasting Digital Migration programme, launched by Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi in December last year is meant to improve the quality of our television and create space for more channels. It is also meant to create an opportunity to tell more local stories.

The Minister, during the launch, said Broadcasting Digital Migration is popularly known for the change it will have on our television services such as more channels, more content and more choice. There are also positive economic spin-offs from its implementation that will help support our job creation plans, develop new industries and help advance the economy.

These economic opportunities include the revival and development of our electronic manufacturing industry. Government has made it a criteria that set-top-boxes for Broadcasting Digital Migration be locally manufactured. This will create jobs in manufacturing, installation and maintenance; and in call centres which would support the STBs.

The Minister said: “There will also be broadcasting content development opportunities. The increased television offerings that we expect to accompany Digital Terrestrial Television will open up new business and job creation opportunities in the area of content development and television production which local businesses can pursue. As a result of the implementation of Digital Migration, Africa will rise to take its rightful place in the television content production and begin to tell the South African and African story.”

Better quality television also means better quality productions. The opening up of new channels also means more content required, which opens opportunity for more productions to bring about stronger bonds and build cohesive communities.

Social cohesion is one of the key challenges facing our country and therefore must be at the centre of this new development. It must not be unintended but deliberate. The stories of South Africa and the continent will indeed be told and rise to take their rightful place in the television content production.

It is about time that new productions and aspiring actors started sharpening their skills. This is an opportunity to tell stories that reflect the communities we come from, as is the case with community radio.  

The other opportunity is to tell the story in all our languages as was the case with the old dramas. It is an opportunity to also establish fully fledged channels in our indigenous languages, especially those historically marginalised.

The community television sector has grown, with almost every province having its own television channel. The sector now has over 3.6 million viewers across the country. On pay television, there are channels broadcasting in Afrikaans and the rest in English or mixed and a portion dedicated to the indigenous languages.

Digital Migration brings with it possibilities to have more channels in all our languages. It will also fulfil our constitutional imperative to promote all official languages. Production companies now have a digital revolution facing them which makes it possible to explore new avenues and opportunities of translation into other languages.

We have seen productions done through less expensive equipment like cellphones and tablets and then enhanced for broadcast. Television news channels have also taken advantage of the social media by running content from cellphones and tablets including Skype to report news. These make it possible for content generation to be cheaper and to tell the South African story.

The Department of Trade and Industry also has the Film and Television Production Incentives, which funds local producers. The Department of Communications under Minister Faith Muthambi should be commended for making sure that our country realises digital revolution.

Let producers bring us together again.

Harold Maloka is the Deputy Director-General of GCIS