HLAUDI Motsoeneng’s decree that all SABC radio stations should play 90% local music and 10% foreign content has had a devastating impact for the traditional Indian radio station Lotus FM.

In the four months since the decree took effect, the Durban-based radio station has lost about a third of its listeners, with its average listener numbers falling by about 130,000, from 390,000 to 260,000.

Advertisers have followed the listeners, saying their research shows that their target market no longer listens to Lotus FM.

An inside source — who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals — says the 33-year-old Lotus FM has been adversely affected by the decree. Presenters now have to play kwaito, Afrikaans and other local music.

After the decree came into effect, listeners called Lotus FM shows to express their displeasure at the sudden change, the source says.

He says SABC management said they should no longer entertain "complainers and whingers", and should switch them off. Lotus has lost listeners to rival, privately owned stations such as East Coast Radio, Radio Hindvani and Radio Islam, he says.

The decree has also had a negative effect on Lotus FM staff, who are reluctantly implementing the 90% local music policy.

"This is because the decision was taken by Hlaudi (Motsoeneng) out of the blue and we all suddenly had to implement without any concrete plan," the source says.

"Our station has for decades thrived on playing Bollywood music and our listeners loved it for it. It was one of the few things that united the Indian people in SA, whether they were in Durban, Pietermaritzburg, South Coast or Johannesburg."

Motsoeneng digs in

When Motsoeneng was first informed about the devastating impact his policy was having on Lotus FM station, he agreed to engage the station and its listeners. But in that discussion, he told them in no uncertain terms that the policy would not change, saying South Africans were not only Indians, and urging Indians to change their "tribalist" thinking.

"This is SA, South Africans are not Indians only — all of us are South Africans. Indian community who don’t accept it … they should just move on. The community of Indians should be very proud we are looking after them," he said.

"I listen to Indian music, I listen to Lotus FM. I’m very excited when I hear this music.

"Indians: move away from tribalism thinking. We think about the nation. We think as South Africans. This is the first radio station where I hear people opposing 90% [local] music," he said, asking why Lotus was being "so vocal".

Advertisers says they have been forced to pull adverts off Lotus FM after listeners left in droves.

Yasser Nitha, a marketing executive with the Checkstar Supermaket chain, a longstanding Lotus FM advertiser, says Lotus FM is no longer the same after the implementation of the local content policy.

"We did our own research and we found that people who buy our products no longer listen to Lotus FM because they say there is nothing good to listen to at the station anymore.

"We advertised so that people buy from us and when they leave, we leave with them. So we have pulled out our advertising from Lotus FM. We are still making up our minds on where to take our account now," Nitha says.

A senior manager from another family-owned retailer, which specialises in saris and other traditional Indian garb, says that company has also dropped plans to advertise on Lotus FM.

The SABC and its spokesman, Kaizer Kganyago, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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