What you need to know:
James Aguma is a Ugandan working as a top executive in South Africa following a proven track record as a senior manager. The chief financial officer at the South African Broadcasting Corporation - a national broadcaster - in an interview with Prosper Magazine’s Dorothy Nakaweesi shared his experiences in the TV Industry.
What does it take for an East African and a Ugandan in particular to get such a big post in Sabc?
One has got to prepare academically. I went through Makerere University and later upgraded through Universities in South Africa. The will to work. As a foreigner you have to stretch yourself more unlike the locals in order to compete. It’s not because of hard work per say but if you have lived amongst South Africans, work and studied with them; they are willing to give you a chance. I have been in South Africa since 1996 but before that I was in Lesotho for three-years.
For East Africans who would want to work in South Africa; what opportunities can be exploited?
South Africa has a lot of investment opportunities East Africans and Ugandans in particular can invest in. A case in point is tourism. You can be able to buy a game lodge in South African at a less cost compared to what it would cost for a plot in Kololo rated at $3 million (Shs10 billion).
As an East African, you can invest this money in South Africa then bring the proceeds back home. There are a lot of investments which can be sponsored through private equity. There are a lot of projects which fail to take off because they don’t have funds. Ugandans who have money should create a private equity and invest in private companies and skills all which can be extended back home.
Mining is the other opportunity that can be exploited because assets are cheap.
As a government-owned media, you are often seen as part of the regime. How do you detach yourself from this association?
The Sabc is a public entity owned by the State and its Board is appointed by the president on the recommendation of Parliament which is a multiparty institution. In addition, there are other safeguards such as an editorial policy that is developed by a consultative process that involves all interested citizens. The Independent Communications Authority of SA also ensures that broadcasts meet set criteria in terms of the Sabc’s mandate to educate, inform and entertain.
How do you cover government?
The Sabc has a mandate of informing people. The government in SA has three tiers - national: provincial and local or municipal. Sabc has offices in all the nine provinces. Therefore it is able to cover news at all levels of government without necessarily focusing on which party controls which sphere of government. The Western Cape Province is governed by the DA and the rest of the country provinces by the ANC. The news coverage is similar in all these provinces.
As a big brother to other state owned media in Africa, how have you contributed to improving journalistic capacity?
The Sabc recognises its position as the largest public broadcaster in Africa. This implies that it has several resources that it can share with other sister broadcasters. Sabc has signed several MoUs [memorandums of understanding] with public broadcasters to share knowledge and resources. For example, the Sabc assisted Mozambique to cover its elections this year and the African Games a few years ago. Lesotho and Swaziland has also requested for assistance to cover events of importance.
You are mostly available through expensive Pay TV Services in the region. Any plan to charge this?
The Broadcasting Act of SA requires all Pay TV channels to carry Free to Air TVs on their channels for free under an arrangement dubbed as “must carry”. To the extent that other Pay TV Channels based in SA extend their services outside SA the Sabc will also be given more exposure. I am hopeful that with the conversion to digital terrestrial television from analogue the cost of broadcasting will go down with the advent of increased competition.
Has the digital migration dividend helped Africa? If so, how?
It is a bit too early to properly assess the impact of the digital dividend in Africa. However, the anticipated advantages are apparent because when the spectrums are freed, it will be available for other services like telecoms companies which avail more data-related services at cheaper costs. In addition, broadcasters will now have more channels available which need content. Content development means more job opportunities in the creative sector.
As a public owned broadcaster, are you viable as a business?
The Sabc is a viable business. We have five TV channels and 18 radio stations. Over 27 million people view TV channels per day and some of our radio stations like Metro FM and Ukhozi FM command daily listenership of over 6m each. The turnover is $550 million (Shs1.9 trillion) and net assets of $131 million (Shs445.8 billion). Cash reserves have been sitting at $70 million (Shs238 billion) for the past three years. Only 3 per cent of this revenue is from government grants. The Sabc, by all accounts, is viable.