by Thinus Ferreira
eMedia Investments plans to close down its etv News & Sport channel on its Openview satellite that it says is “no longer viable” and also wants to move the NewsLink timeslot on eNCA (DStv 403), apparently “not aligned to the tone and pace of news” to Johannesburg with over three dozen staff members affected at etv News & Sport, including working for eNCA, with workers who got served with Section 189 retrenchment letters.
eMedia didn’t respond to a media query about the shuttering and retrenchment plan of etv News & Sport that could be gone by the end of March 2022 and will leave 45 people out of jobs.
eMedia launched the unique OpenNews, primarily produced from Cape Town, three years ago in November 2018 on its Openview free-to-air satellite TV service on channel 120.
It was South Africa’s first free-to-air TV news channel from a commercial company with the aim of bringing viewers across Southern Africa a new additional TV news choice, more views and more diverse news coverage.
A few months after its launch eMedia renamed OpenNews as e News & Sport, and in August 2019 etv News & Sport was also quietly added to the VIU video streaming service as a streaming channel as well.
OpenNews started broadcasting 18 hours for seven days a week but after the format didn’t deliver the expected performance and audience share, the broadcast hours and live news were reduced.
The etv News & Sport channel has been doing a half-hour live news bulletin on weekdays (also broadcast on e.tv) at 13:00, a 3.5 hour broadcast on weekday afternoons, a well-watched half-hour live news broadcast at 20:00, and with repeat programming and sports content over weekends.
Distraught staffers who have now been told that e News & Sport is struggling and must be closed down, say speculation is rife inside corridors that eMedia is being pressured by MultiChoice to get rid of the channel that is allegedly seen as being in direct competition with, and contributing to content dilution of, eNCA.
eMedia produces eNCA exclusively to DStv as part of an existing pay-TV channel carriage agreement that is up for renewal every few years.
eMedia has now served almost 4 dozen shocked staff members with Section 189 letters, signed by managing director Marlon Davids, saying the company has “reassessed the positioning of channel 120 in the Openview bouquet”.
A staff meeting is set for Wednesday, with staff who will hear why eMedia wants to close down the TV news channel tomorrow afternoon.
The same etv News & Sport production team is also responsible for the NewsLink programming strand on eNCA, with eMedia that now wants to get rid of those workers and make eNCA’s Johannesburg office responsible for doing the morning timeslot between 09:00 and 11:00.
eMedia told staff that etv News & Sport “is no longer viable as a news service and therefore no longer supports the operational requirements”. According to eMedia Investments, etv News & Sport is “not a sustainable or effective channel” in the Openview bouquet “and it will not appeal to audiences as a documentary and current affairs channel”.
About the NewsLink timeslot with Cape Town co-anchors Annika Larsen and Tapfuma Makina, eMedia management says that after “careful review of the flow of live news on eNCA, the business has determined that NewsLink is the only product that is outsourced and therefore not aligned to the tone and pace of news”.
The plan is to move NewsLink to Johannesburg with new anchors and producers “where it is completely integrated into the carefully planned and facilitated rundown that is specifically designed to increase audience and market share” for eNCA.
No final decision on the NewsLink cross-country move has been taken yet.
eMedia says the restructuring “may lead to the operational dismissal of all of the employees in the company” which includes 37 permanent workers and 8 fixed-term contract workers, including everyone from anchors, editors, producers and camera operators to journalists and various other technical staff.
Low morale and staff ‘crushed’
“This is the first time that etv News & Sport staff ever heard that the channel is apparently not performing,” an insider said.
“People are utterly crushed. Many are young, like producers in their 20s. They just started working in news and television and journalism.”
“People are gutted about the plan to close etv News & Sport and are openly wondering how much the closure has to do with negotiations between eMedia and MultiChoice over the future of eNCA and to get the channel out of the crosshairs so eNCA can remain on DStv.”
“The morale inside corridors has already been so low – now people are hit with something like this.”