Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Members of Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications travelled to Durban this week, where they met staff and management of embattled SABC-owned Lotus FM and Ukhozi FM, and encouraged them to focus on the job of reviving the fortunes of the two stations.

This follows the decision in May by the SABC’s interim board to scrap the 90%-10% local-international music quota, imposed on the public broadcaster by former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng in the middle of 2016.

The decree had a calamitous effect on SABC radio stations, many of which lost millions in revenue and listenership. Lotus FM — the Durban-based national station that has an Indian listenership — lost about 130,000 listeners in just four months. Listenership fell from an average of 390,000 a day to 260,000.

On the other hand, Ukhozi FM — which is among the biggest radio stations in the world — has continued to grow. Listenership now stands at 7.7-million people.

But the station has also suffered financially as advertisers generally boycotted SABC radio stations, resulting in the corporation losing millions of rand in revenue.

In May, the SABC interim board cited the high local content policy as the biggest contributor to its financial loss, expected at about R1.1bn for the 2016-17 financial year.

Now all SABC stations have returned to the previous 60% local content quota — the standard set by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa).

Humphrey Maxegwana, chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications, told journalists on Wednesday that members of the committee had had a positive interaction with the staff of the two Durban-based stations.

"Members of the staff at the two station said they are now able to do their work without interference. People at Lotus said they are able to play traditional Indian music and they are working very hard to regain the lost listeners and are wooing advertisers who had left last year," he said.

"We promised them that we will keep on supporting them in their work. We hope to have similar interactions with them in the near future to check how they are doing their work," Maxegwana said. "We will also interact with the Department of Communications and the interim SABC board to tell them about our observations from these interactions."

Other members of the committee concurred with Maxegwana, saying the fact-finding exercise had been a success.

Management of both Lotus FM and Ukhozi declined to answer questions and referred queries to Kaizer Kganyago, the SABC head of communications. Kganyago was not available for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

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