TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
MILLIONS of South Africans were denied live coverage of the first Twenty20 international between India and the Proteas in Dharamsala on Friday when the SABC pulled the plug on ball-by-ball radio commentary at the 11th hour.
But the broadcaster has promised that the commentators will be on air for the second match of the series in Cuttack tomorrow.
And who do South Africans have to thank for that? None other than the SABC’s R3.7-million man, chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
“This issue came to my attention (on Friday), and I instructed the team to provide commentary,” Motsoeneng told Sunday Times on Saturday. “I only get involved if there is a problem, and I did intervene. The issue is resolved.”
So it would seem. “There will be commentary from Monday,” SABC head of sport Bessie Tugwana said on Saturday. “We just had a minor disagreement with the rights-holders.” She declined to elaborate on the nature of the disagreement.
That’s a dramatic turnaround from the situation on Thursday, when production staff and commentators – who had been assured in August that they would work on the India tour – were given 28 hours notice that their services would not be required.
The news came in the form of a text message from Diane Reimer, the head of radio sport, that read: “Please note the final decision has been made we will not cover the India tour – please cancel all arrangements and inform your staff and freelancers accordingly. Reason for no coverage no return on investment.”
Contacted on Saturday, Reimer put down the phone after saying, “I shouldn’t be talking to you, I can’t comment further.”
Thursday’s news left SABC staff and freelancers asking how an organisation can say it is concerned with returns on investment when it hands out increases of almost R1-million.
Last month it emerged that Motsoeneng’s salary had been adjusted from R2.8-million to R3.7-million. Top level SABC radio commentators earn around R25 000 for working on all five days of a test.
Motsoeneng bristled defensively when that view was put to him: “Your question is wrong. What I’m getting is the benchmark. I work hard for that money. In fact, people in similar positions earn more than I do. No-one has raised as much funding for the SABC as I have.
“All the sports of national interest are back on the SABC because I put structures in place to make that happen.”
One member of the cricket crew, who declined to be named, put their newly restored source of money where their boss’ mouth is: “This is the kind of thing he has done a few times. He doesn’t have the qualifications for his job but he gets things done.”
Another rolled their eyes, as much in resignation as in relief: “This kind of indecisiveness and incompetence has happened so many times I’ve lost count.”
Public protector Thuli Madonsela has recommended Motsoeneng face disciplinary action over his multiple salary increases, allegedly lying about his credentials – he has not passed Matric – and claims of abuse of power.
But in this case Motsoeneng would appear to be the good guy. Without radio commentary South Africans would be forced to consider the expensive options of the internet or satellite television to follow the cricket in India.
Both of those platforms have tiny cricket audiences in SA compared to the numbers attracted by SABC radio stations and television channels.
Australia’s tour to SA in 2011 was watched by 23 773 441 people on free-to-air SABC3. Coverage of the same matches on pay channel SuperSport had a viewership of 2 002 706.
Cricket SA did not respond to emailed and texted requests for comment.