Blackout on rugby not SABC's fault

It is not reasonable to put all the blame for the blackout on the doorsteps of the SABC, the writer says.
It is not reasonable to put all the blame for the blackout on the doorsteps of the SABC, the writer says.
Image: Waldo Swiegers

The SABC always gets a bad rap when it comes to sports rights, especially whenever there are reports that it can't broadcast some popular sport.

Currently, the public broadcaster is under fire for not being able to broadcast the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The anger of rugby fans who, because they cannot afford DStv subscriptions, would not be able to watch Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and his warriors take on New Zealand and other opponents, is understandable.

But it is not reasonable to put all the blame on the doorsteps of the SABC. Indeed, years of maladministration and mismanagement by successive boards and senior executives at SABC contributed to the public broadcaster being unable today to afford the broadcast rights to the game.

The truth of the matter is that even with a strong balance sheet, there is no guarantee that the SABC, with all its other responsibilities as a public broadcaster, would always be able to compete with commercial broadcasters for sports rights.

As a public broadcaster, the SABC is not supposed to be driven primarily by the profit motive and is expected, as part of its operating licences, to give coverage even in areas that are lossmaking.

Among its duties is to provide national news in all official languages and to broadcast content that reflects the entire country, including remote areas that others find too expensive to cover. It is the backbone of our democratic system.

Given the economic situation, the broadcaster's financial situation, the fact that its current funding model is not sufficient to cover its costs, as well as the fact that the state has many other pressing issues than to increase funding for the SABC, perhaps it is time we accepted that there are certain things the public broadcaster cannot afford to do.

And those should include the broadcasting of international sports events. These are usually controlled by international bodies who sell the rights to the highest bidders.

This often means that public broadcasters like SABC are beaten to these rights by deep-pocketed commercial operators. It is not an ideal situation, but we ought not put the blame on SABC when the whole system is unfair to those who do not have deep pockets.

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