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When the call came to visit the ANN7 (African News Network 7) studios in Midrand, there was no hesitation on my part. This is, after all, the company that made headlines for its dismal start in the broadcasting industry and no one apart from its staff had set foot on the premises.
On arrival we were questioned by the security as to the reason for our visit and they radioed another unit in the building to tell them to expect us, giving them a description of our vehicle and all of our names. It was like something out of a Hollywood action movie. No guns were in sight, but the security was so heavy I expected to see an armoured truck or two in the vicinity.
It must be noted that Midrand is, generally, a deforested area that is usually hot and this day was no different. But on entering the posh ANN7 offices and being welcomed by the cool breeze from the air conditioner, it was obvious these guys knew what they were doing when they chose this location.
The offices and studios are dimly lit with blue hues that are easy on the eyes. The newsroom was littered with people doing the obvious from typing to making telephone calls.
As if to keep us interested, Abigail Visagie sat in the middle of the room reading the midday news. Although our group stared at her quite obviously, she did not flinch and read the autocue confidently and clearly.
Around her stood three large unmanned cameras, which we then discovered were operated by remote control by one of the young people sitting at the desks. While marvelling at this technology, we were told this state-of-the-art equipment had not yet even been purchased by certain well-known international news corporations.
The tour guide took us through other departments like the green room and special effects section which all exceeded our expectations and were much better than any of the network’s competitors.
So if ANN7 looks like the interior of a Star Wars ship, what happened when they launched? Why were there so many bleeps and blunders that first time on air?
“We don’t want to call what happened to us a failed start, but a shaky beginning,” said Nazeem Howa, who is the chief executive of the channel.
“What happened to us happens to all channels when they start, but the unfortunate thing is that people remember us for now as we are the youngest. We are not ashamed of what happened because for us it was a learning experience. We took a risk by employing inexperienced young people and we allowed them to make those mistakes as a learning process. Like I said, it was a risk, but now that it is six months later, those young people have got over their nerves and are performing like the professionals they are,” explained Howa.
For ANN7, the idea of having inexperienced personnel was part of their plan to empower the young people who are always said to be unemployed, yet qualified.
“I get so many CVs daily from experienced people from our competition who want to work for us. It is always interesting that on the surface there are people who make a living off making fun of us, meanwhile there are people willing to work for us,” said the major shareholder, Atul Gupta.
For them ANN7 is a hub for learning and with their amazing equipment it only takes hard work and dedication and the results are almost guaranteed.
“When I first got here and all the mishaps started happening, I wasn’t sure if I had made the right move,” said Chantal Rutter Dros, one of the anchors of ANN7.
“You know, coming from Carte Blanche where everything worked seamlessly to an environment where things almost fell apart at every turn, was hard. But we persevered and now we are doing well,” she said.
For her, the death of Nelson Mandela was the litmus test for the channel as people would want to see how they would handle it.
“I remember saying to my team: ‘Let’s pray that he doesn’t die, because if he does, we are not ready’. He died and we just went in there and did our best. Surprisingly, we got people saying we had the best coverage and this is without the archive footage that other channels had,” said Dros.
To authenticate their place in the media game, the channel has major plans for the Oscar Pistorious trial and the general elections that are coming up in May.
Catch all things ANN7 on DStv’s channel 405.