By Jonathan Mbiriyamveka
HARARE – Former South Africa Broadcasting Corporation chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng is “different things to different people.”
On one hand he is a hero to the creative industry and yet on the other he is a villain especially in the eyes of those opposed to his local content drive policy on radio and television.
Motsoeneng is already on suspension after the Western Cape High Court deemed his appointment as COO was both unlawful and unconstitutional.
Among a litany of other chargers, Motsoeneng is facing charges of violating the broadcaster’s code of conduct.
Only last week, it emerged that he could face additional charges.
While the courts are to decide on his fate, one thing that caught the attention of many observers was his policy to promote local content on both radio and television.
He was pushing for 90 percent local content on television and 80 percent on radio stations.
In a televised press briefing last week, Motsoeneng said he was unapologetic about the local content drive.
Some of the legendary artists in South Africa threw their full weight behind Motsoneng saying he was being victimized for trying to empower the majority of artistes.
And as usual the debate was mired by issues to do with race and of course the South African politics in light of the recently introduced radical economic transformation blueprint by President Jacob Zuma.
It appears whenever the local content drive is introduced in southern Africa there is bound to be friction and resistance especially from those who have been manipulating the creative industry.
The case in point was when Zimbabwe did the same and the government implemented the 75 percent local content drive on radio and television around 2000.
There was resistance with critics saying that there was not enough content to fill the gap and that the productions were of poor standard.
To a certain extent they were right but then it later proved worthwhile as a lot of untapped talent was exposed.
Quite a number of artistes benefitted from the airplay as they were booked for shows throughout the country while others started to enjoy royalties.
In Zimbabwe particularly the young musicians benefitted from the local content drive and a lot of backyard studios opened up employing youths.
A genre called urban grooves was also birthed and Zimbabweans warmed up to it.
The local music charts were predominantly made up of local music as opposed to western music.
Radio and television began sounding like real Zimbabwean stations with local languages being heard.
Zimbabwe will soon go digital and chances are that there will be many more television stations creating a demand for local content.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Christopher Mushohwe last week launched the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) television news bulletins for nine languages.
“We are here for the launch of news bulletins in nine languages that were formerly maginalised. In fact, with this occasion we are giving such languages the respect they deserve as Zimbabwean languages as well as fulfilling the dictates of our constitution, which recognizes 16 languages,” Minister Mushohwe said.
Imagine with all the soap operas and dramas that are being produced in South Africa but appeal to viewers in other southern African countries.
Botswana Television (BTV) is another example of how local content drive has been successfully implemented.
The news bulletins, documentaries and features are mostly broadcast in Tswana.
Of course there are western production but the majority of productions are local.
Elsewhere in Zambia, there was once a soap called Kabanana which was popular beyond their borders.
Currently, Zambezi Magic which appears on DStv bouquet is primarily a southern Africa channel that broadcasts films productions from the region.
Filmmakers whose productions are being aired on Zambezi Magic channel 160 are making decent earnings from their films.
While Motsoeneng may appear to be a villain, the truth is he is actually trying to unlock value in local productions in the same manner that other southern African countries have done.