By Carol Paton
Radio listeners are voting with their dials and switching off the SABC’s current affairs programmes.
Over the past year, SABC radio current affairs programmes have lost 1,5m listeners. Over the past five years, the loss has been 2,9m. This is according to research by the SA Advertising Research Foundation (Saarf), provided to the FM by the SABC.
In absolute terms, numbers remain large and it is clear a majority of the population still use radio as their primary source of information. But audiences of weekday current affairs programmes on all SABC stations dropped from 24,6m in 2005 to 21,6m in the period March-June this year, a loss of 12%.
The drop is of serious concern to the SABC’s board, which recently settled a dispute over the appointment of long- time SABC staffer Phil Molefe by a narrow majority. Molefe had been acting as head of news at the SABC for the two years before his appointment and, like his predecessor Snuki Zikalala, is associated with the steady decline in audience figures.
The radio numbers echo steep declines in audience figures for SABC 3 television news. The main broadcast, The News at 7, used to draw 16% of TV audiences. Now, it attracts only 11%.
The decline in SABC 3 news audiences is in large part being held responsible for the woes of the channel and its loss of market share to e.tv and DStv over the past year.
The SABC’s marketing department says the figures must be seen in the context of declining radio audiences in general and a change in survey methodology by Saarf about a year ago, which was followed by dropping numbers. Though this is being looked at more closely by both the SABC and Saarf, there is little doubt that the decline in current affairs follows a longer trend.
SAfm’s Morning Live programme, for instance, has seen audiences drop from 193000 at the end of 2004 to 123000 between March and July this year.
Ukhozi FM, the largest radio station in the country, in 2005 ran a morning current affairs programme with 1,8m listeners. Now that figure is 1,2m.