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South African TV just got more competitive in the 24-hour news domain. While the unrivalled eNews Channel Africa (eNCA) has been comfortably sharing the DStv platform with Sky News and BBC World News channels since June 2008 (initially, as eNews Channel before its rebranding last year) the status quo changed. SABC News was launched and, days after, it was announced that Africa News Network7 (ANN7) was also on its way. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with two prominent faces for ANN7 – Gerry Rantseli-Elsdon and Chantal Rutter Dros – to find out about their roles in the groundbreaking enterprise helmed by the Gupta family.
IT has been about two years since we have seen Rantseli-Elsdon on TV. Having made a strong impression as the co-host of South Africa’s first Big Brother reality series and as a continuity presenter for M-Net, Rantseli-Elsdon has also used her celebrity for her various humanitarian projects.
When I got hold of her, she was just leaving Power FM after being interviewed. After quickly taking a picture with a fan, as the National TB Ambassador for Sound Africa and Global TB Advocate: International Federation of the Red Cross, she chatted about returning to the small screen with ANN7.
“I have known the Gupta family for 15, maybe more, years. We have done things before. About two months ago, I was called from someone from the old team I worked with. They asked me to come in and have a chat. At that stage, I didn’t know they were starting a news channel.”
After hearing their proposal to host the breakfast show, Vuka Africa, seven days a week, and to be its executive producer and select a team, Rantseli-Elsdon immediately signed on the dotted line.
“I have been off screen for a while. I wasn’t certain if I came back what I primarily wanted to do. I needed to do a project I could influence. While I’m the lead anchor, I have three other presenters – brand new faces – who would be dealing with other segments.”
Given the strong female influence, Rantseli-Elsdon adds: “I’m not certain you are aware of this – the entire channel is populated with women. It’s about 85 percent female. That was a deliberate decision on the part of the shareholders.”
The affable TV personality says what will make her show a cut above the rest is the fact that it won’t be news only.
She explains: “Of course, it will encompass what a normal morning show does, incorporating the usual suspects: news, news headlines, business, weather and sport as our stalwarts. Primarily, though, it will be a three-hour lifestyle show. We are taking the more international approach.
“In the evenings, we have our hard news. When I’m speaking to a politician, for example, it won’t be the hard story. It would be from a completely different dynamic. Morning television has started taking the radio format of quick, fast-paced and interesting. Of course, if a political story broke, we would use that.”
Also assisting with grooming newcomers on the nitty-gritty of on-air presenting, Rantseli-Elsdon is full of praise for the hi-tech equipment they have at their disposal at the channel.
“The entire channel is equipped for that breaking news platform. We will bring stories live as we have a number of OB (outdoor broadast) vans, which are not like the old-fashioned vans.
“This will be the most technologically sound and international format SA has ever had. Our cameras in studio are all robotic. Even the lighting moves robotically.”
Relishing being in the broadcast environment again, she laughs. “I had forgotten how much of a rush it can be.”
Shifting to a more serious note, she says: “The team of ANN7, as a channel, want to bring strong journalism and critical news to the viewers but we also don’t want to play to anyone’s tune.
“We can dictate how we are going to do that – we are not replicating anything on South African TV or produced locally.”
CHANTAL RUTTER DROS
WITH 20 years in the industry, Rutter Dros has more than earned her journalistic stripes.
She says the past four weeks have been a rollercoaster of changes for her – especially in saying goodbye to M-Net’s Carte Blanche.
Rutter Dros, who has a master’s degree in media ethics from Stellenbosch University, an honours degree in English literature from Unisa and an undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Johannesburg (where she majored in law), laughs at the memory of how things have snowballed to her now hosting prime time shows, ANN7 Headlines and ANN7 Prime.
“It was all very, very fast. I had no intention of leaving Carte Blanche. But when they gave me an idea of what they were planning, showed me the set and studio and shared their philosophy of news; well, before I knew it, I signed on,” she explains.
“At this point, I’m carrying those two shows – no co-anchor. I’m also producing content. It was something I felt strongly about; having a look at what types of news we consider relevant and how we package its relevance to the man on the street. We aren’t about covering a press conference for the sake of doing so, or a rally for that matter. We also have a strong investigative component, where we will also be breaking stories.”
Having explored the full gamut of news reporting as a news reporter for SABC, field reporter for Talk Radio 702, senior reporter for e.tv when it launched and then moved to primetime news anchor, Rutter Dros is confident she will be able to put her stamp on her new role.
She explains: “I have got a lot of political insight over the years. I have also worked as a political co-ordinator between the European Union and Egypt. And I have done Carte Blanche. I am perfectly positioned to add value in terms of recognising and writing news as I have a broader view.”
Ready to tackle her new responsibility, an intrepid Rutter Dros says: “It’s a huge task to start from scratch. News is complex and it changes all the time. The challenge is to find the right people to galvanise it. I can’t promise everything will be perfect.
“From our view, it is news that is authentic and impartial. It is flawless, gritty and we want to keep building on that reputation. Hopefully one day, we are the number one news authority in SA, if not on the African continent (maybe the world even).”
She adds, “Even though I’m out of the field and now stomping up and down the set and the control room being a Jane of all trades, I hope to be a master of some.”
• Africa News Network7 (ANN7) goes live next Wednesday on DStv Channel 405. Gerry Ranseli-Elsdon’s Vuka Africa airs every day from 6am to 9am and Chantal Rutter Dros’ ANN7 Headlines runs from 7pm to 8pm and ANN7 Prime from 8pm to 9pm.
Meanwhile, in other sabc news…
LAST year’s indecision over whether SABC’s 24-hour news channel was going to go ahead – especially with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan telling Parliament that the business plan for the SABC’s 24-hour news channel has not been approved – is over.
SABC News went live on Thursday, August 1, pipping Africa News Network7’s (ANN7) subsequent announcement about also going on air from next Wednesday.
With SABC’s financial crisis now over, the broadcaster – an institution with a history of
77 years – is looking at being a key player amid ANN7 and front runner eNews Channel Africa (eNCA), which got a head start in June 2008, and looking at becoming a tour de force as a news provider.
While the channel got President Jacob Zuma’s stamp of approval, so to speak, as he officially opened the channel as the first guest, little is known about the content on offer and the anchors.
What has been divulged to the media by Hlaudi Motsoeneng, SABC’s acting chief operating officer, is that provincial stories and the various official languages are part of the public service mandate of the channel. But English will be the predominant language, with the others phased in.
Although the technical aspects have been discussed – to mindboggling confusion for the layman still trying to get his or her head around the migration from analogue to digital – it would be nice to get a holistic perspective of what SABC News has to offer in content that will make viewers either shift their loyalty from Sky News or Al Jazeera and keep them from tuning in to its home-grown rival networks.
Unfortunately, Kaizer Kganyago, SABC Group Communications head, was not available for further clarity on this milestone.
• SABC News is on DStv Channel 404.