/ 28 July 2008

Coming to the big (TV) screen

While television is an everyday form of entertainment for most people, it is a rare luxury for the residents of Diepsloot and other townships in Gauteng. But now the Township TV project has brought entertainment and education into their lives.

On Saturday, the fourth Township TV big screen was unveiled at Rose Park in Lenasia. Four 4m x 3m television screens have now been erected in parks in townships around Johannesburg.

The project is a partnership between Johannesburg City Parks and Township TV.

The concept of public television is the brainchild of former CNN journalist Graeme Joffe, who told the Mail & Guardian Online on Monday that the project is about more than just social responsibility.

”A friend of mine suggested that we start a football team and take football back to the people and I said, ‘No, let’s take television back to the people,”’ he said.

The generator-powered screens are in Diepsloot Park in the north of Johannesburg; Eldorado Park in the south; the recently unveiled Diepkloof XtremePark; and in Rose Park, Lenasia.

”The first screen was erected in Diepsloot in December last year and I am happy to say that the community of Diepsloot is so grateful to have the television, especially because TV is rare luxury in that community since there is no power,” said Joffe.

Johannesburg City Parks’s Jenny Moodley said the televisions are switched on at specific times during the day. ”The TVs are on from 2pm every day until 6pm. We don’t want to have them on earlier on in the day because we don’t want to risk children skipping school just to watch the TVs,” she said.

Although the Township TV team manages the content displayed on the televisions, viewers enjoy a wide variety of channels as the TVs are loaded with DStv channels.

Joffe said that the children are enjoying this feature. ”Children in Diepsloot fetch the manager from where he lives, take him to the park and wait for him to switch the TV on to the cartoon channel. The look on their faces when they are watching is priceless,” he said.

Some of the more popular channels watched on the TVs are the History Channel, SuperSport and Cartoon Network, as well as the South African Broadcasting Corporation sport channels when there are football matches.

The parks are guarded by 24-hour security against vandalism, littering and the use of alcohol on the premises.

”On the night of the football game between Chiefs and Pirates there were 5 000 people at the park in Diepsloot, and we obviously needed more security guards to make sure that no alcohol is brought to the park and that there are no fights on site.

”I am happy to say that since the insertion of the first screen in December last year, there hasn’t been any report of violence or vandalism in any of the parks,” Joffe said.

Johannesburg City Parks is ensuring that the upgraded parks are multifunctional, that their maintenance standards are improved and that the parks cater to the needs of all children.

Soccer fields, multipurpose sports courts, splash pools and additional play equipment have been added to some of these facilities, to ensure that children not only access to the TVs, but also benefit from social interaction and physical activities.

Township TV has spent more than R2-million installing the TVs thus far, and a roll-out of more TVs in townships around the country is expected.

”Our wish is to have at least 10 TVs installed in 10 townships around the country, so we are reaching out to corporate companies for funding,” said Joffe, adding that the next two screens will be installed at Ivory Park and Alexandra before the end of the year.