In response to the presentation made by acting GCEO the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Robin Nicholson to parliament on 20 April regarding the troubled broadcaster's turnaround, the independent production sector has issued the following statement seeking firm commitment from the SABC on local content.
Whilst the IPO (Independent Producers Organisation) and SASFED (South African Screen Federation), who jointly represent more than 100 local film and television production companies, are pleased to note that Robin Nicholson reported an improvement in the organisations finances, we believe that this has come at the expense of quality programming and specifically in local content which has borne the major brunt of this improvement in the financial fortunes of the organisation. There have been severe cutbacks in the commissioning and acquisition of local content, a policy of repeats and budget cuts. The broadcast of quality programming is the SABCs core function.
Although Nicholson told parliament that the SABC is committed to local content, local production companies would like to see specific commitments, including time frames for the commissioning of local programming. These include the publication of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) which were supposed to be released in December 2010 and which have not yet materialised.
The struggle to push the SABC to publish RFPs for the independent production sector was a hard and bitter struggle. The system is designed to ensure transparency and transformation and was seen as crucial to both a healthy production sector and SABC. It guards against corruption and ensures a system of merit in the commissioning process. The failure to publish RFPs is therefore noted with concern, not only because it impacts on the financial health of the production sector, but also because the absence of a transparent commissioning process creates an environment conducive to corruption and kick backs.
In addition, the IPO and SASFED, whose members collectively produce over 80% of local programming, are alarmed that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has not been monitoring local content because it does not have the necessary equipment to do so. This makes a mockery of one of ICASAs important functions which is to monitor its own regulations. The SABC is legally obliged to deliver local content produced by independent producers. The quality and popularity of local shows cannot be contested, as audience ratings indicate that most of the top rated shows on television are South African.
Local content is important for democracy, for the preservation of our languages and building of our nation. In addition, the independent production sector employs thousands of people, many of whom are dependent on the SABCs commissioning of local content.
The crisis at the SABC and its failure to preserve its core mandate in providing quality programming has weakened our production industry. Our local producers, directors and the raft of talent that is involved in TV production are critical to good programming. By the time the SABC wakes up to the need to produce quality programming, both the talent in the industry and their audiences will have gone elsewhere.
The Independent Production sector therefore calls on the SABC Board and its GCEO Robin Nicholson to put specific time-frames and deliverables to its stated commitment to local programming.