Sunday, August 23, 2009

'Row' Over Media Housing in Joburg

Interesting story in today's editions of the Johannesburg Sunday Times about housing being constructed in Johannesburg for media covering the 2010 World Cup.

Let's boil this down: What it comes down to is a concern over media perceptions. And that is a legitimate concern because media perceptions turn into global reality.

(Just ask Atlanta about the 1996 Olympics. A couple of lost bus drivers the first few days of the event forever tarred Atlanta as an Olympics that "didn't work.")

Apparently, South Africa organizers are building new housing that they believe will work just fine for media during the World Cup.

However, officials in the Expo Centre area, where the housing is being built, say the accommodations are too small and too primitive -- they describe it as "hostel-like" -- to fit in with what is an upscale area, and that it will harm property values in the neighborhood.

Welcome to the tug of war that is a major world event, Joburg.

A distinction we should make, right up front. The housing in question apparently is intended to accommodate electronic media people. TV folks. The Richie Rich-es of media.

If it were print media housing, you could throw up a tent with a Coleman heater in the corner, a port-a-potty outside and that would be the end of it. I've been to 13 Olympics and four World Cups, and print people expect little more than more-or-less clean sheets and a ride to the venues. I'm thinking of some of the new multi-residential areas I've been lodged in, over the years ... and I recall barely functioning apartment units (and a shared bathroom) at Sarajevo in 1984, new but downscale apartments at Korea in 1984, at Nagano in 1998 and something hardly better than Quonset huts at Sydney, 2000.

This is an issue because it's the electronic media, and canny South Africa leaders know that a throwaway line by a TV guy about the "hostel" he is stuck in at night can paint, to millions of television viewers, a picture of South Africa as a primitive and unwelcoming place.

Personally, I think anything with a roof, a bed and functioning plumbing is just fine. But I know where the Expo Centre people are coming from when they suggest the 45-square-meter (480 square feet) units under construction might be considered subpar by TV people. Even though 480 square feet is far bigger than the average First World hotel room.

But this is different because the Expo Centre will, apparently, be home to the electronic media center. And that makes some people nervous.

Thing is, I imagine the elite world TV media will be staying in four- or five-star hotels, not in the media housing. The commentators who work for the big TV companies will never see this housing. They will be in a hotel.

How this turns out will be interesting. Can Expo Centre officials push World Cup organizers (with the help of the courts) into even bigger and posher cribs for the talking heads? Or will the World Cup officials hold the line, plead a lack of time -- and perhaps undermine a neighborhood's resale values with several hundred undersized/shabby future apartments?

This is the sort of push and pull that comes with these events. The fact that TV people are involved makes it a little more delicate. We'll tell you about the outcome, when we get one.

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