SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Linda Loubser writes…The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition held a picket on 24 November outside the SABC offices in Auckland Park, Johannesburg and outside parliament in Cape Town where a memorandum was handed to Eric Kholwane, chair of the Portfolio Committee on Communications.
About 100 picketers gathered outside the SABC’s Radio Park with banners and placards bearing messages such as “SABC squanders while film workers suffer’, “Public Broadcasting: Where is Documentary?’ and “SABC murders local content’.
The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition – a broad-based, civil society coalition committed to strengthening public broadcasting – called for the picket after letters to the Chair of the SABC board on 25 October and to other members of the board on 8 November had gone unanswered.
Among other things, the letters asked for reasons for the delays in the appointment of the new CEO, COO and CFO; explanations with regard to the R20m car scandal and the controversial employment of Mr. Justice Ndaba to run the SABC turnaround strategy; reasons for the suspension of the company secretary without a board resolution; and reasons for the fact that the SABC has not adequately utilised its Request for Proposals book to transparently commission new local content.
The Coalition received a reply from the SABC Board on 23 November, the day before the picket, proposing a meeting to discuss their concerns. According to SOS coordinator Kate Skinner the meeting will probably take place within the next two weeks, but they decided to continue with the picket and use the memorandum to make their concerns known to Parliament.
Some of the organisations represented included the Right 2 Know Campaign, the South African Screen Federation (SASFED), the Documentary Filmmakers Association (DFA), trade unions MWASA and BEMAWU, the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) and the Soweto Concerned Residents.
Famous faces at the picket included actors Frank Opperman and Terence Bridgett, who was also master of ceremonies.
Bridgett started the picket by reminding those gathered that it was not the first time they were standing there. “As you all know, in 2009 when the SABC axed local content we stood here with three simple requests: leadership, transparency and accountability, both financially and creatively. That is what is needed to sustain our industry. We are creatives, not politicians or fighters. We shouldn’t be using our energy to protest, we should be creating and telling stories. But unfortunately none of our concerns have been addressed,’ said Bridgett.
He explained that the memorandum would be handed to Kholwane, chair of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications. “Parliament represents the people of South Africa and must hold the SABC to account. As storytellers we are the voice and conscience of a nation and we will not be ignored,’ said Bridgett.
The picket in Johannesburg crossed over live to the picket in Cape Town when Kholwane accepted the memorandum. He promised to look at the industry’s concerns, but noted that new Minister of Communications Dina Pule had already given the undertaking to fill the positions of CEO, COO and CFO by March 2012.
Among the speakers in Johannesburg, Tuwani Gumani, general secretary of trade union the Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA) noted that the nation building potential of the national broadcaster has not been put to full use. “Instead the SABC has been moving from crisis to crisis. A crisis loves being managed. What we don’t need now is crisis management, what we need is leadership,’ emphasised Gumani. “We as South Africans have a right to demand visionary leadership. It’s time to demand the SABC we all deserve, one that inspires us to be a nation.’
Elston Seppie, director of the FXI said that millions of South Africans depend on the SABC for quality entertainment, education and programming. “The lack of quality content is seriously infringing on their rights.’
Skinner also emphasised the need for more quality local content on SABC channels. “It is so critical that we have South African stories told by South Africans, not thousands of repeats. Especially when we move to a digital platform we are going to need more quality local content told by a diversity of voices.’
After the picket Skinner said that she was happy with the turnout, noting that they were not aiming for big numbers of participants, but rather that all the organisations she had hoped would participate had turned up to show their support. However, she noted that it would have been good to see more union representation.