Hostilities between the SABC and the country’s unpaid independent producers heated up several degrees this week, with producers planning a picket and the broadcaster publicly threatening to produce up to 40% of its content in-house.
Last week the Mail & Guardian reported that the estimated amount owed by the broadcaster to independent producers is nearing the R60-million mark.
This week independent producers reacted vehemently to the veiled threat by chief executive Gabs Mampone that the broadcaster might begin to sideline their sector.
In an unscheduled appearance on Talk Radio 702 to talk about the broadcaster’s beleaguered finances Mampone proposed a return to methods of production reminiscent of the apartheid era.
Said Kate Skinner of the Save our SABC Coalition, who was a guest on the debate on Talk Radio 702’s Redi Direko Show last Thursday: ”My sense was that he was saying, ‘we’ve got to sort out the independent producers’ problems’. And he said ‘one of the things we could do is we could just produce the programming in-house’.”
Mampone suggested that the SABC bring 40% of production in-house, sparking irate phone-in responses from independent producers, some of them owed millions by the SABC.
Skinner said Mampone’s suggestion appeared to be ”a proposal in its early stages”. It has prompted the observation that the SABC could return to an apartheid-era production model. Until the early 1990s, it generated the bulk of its content in-house under the logo of the now-defunct Safritel.
But broadcast researcher Dimitri Martinis argued that Mampone’s proposal was legally feasible. ”Icasa [the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa] provides for the SABC to outsource 40% of its content to independents. If it brought in 40%, technically it would still be within the regulations,” Martinis said.
Levern Engel, managing director of Endemol South Africa, which recently threatened to pull its soap opera, Isidingo, off air, this week called Mampone’s statement ”ludicrous and against the public broadcaster’s mandate”.
”We are its critical partner in terms of local content creation. How can you not engage your biggest local partner?” Engel demanded. Endemol is one of Africa’s largest production houses.
Engel questioned whether the SABC has the capacity to produce ”quality content and diversity that reflects our nation”, and whether Mampone’s suggestion ”is something that has been thought through in the SABC”.
She said the SABC boss’s remark contradicts a joint study commissioned last year by the SABC with the South African Screen Federation and the Independent Producers’ Organisation that looked at the building of a sustainable broadcast industry based on international best practice.
The report recommended that producers and the SABC share copyright of programmes commissioned by the broadcaster. This would allow producers to promote their products more rigorously and widely than at present.
Mampone’s comment has sent shockwaves through the industry, fuelling plans by producers and trade union members working at the SABC to march against the broadcaster on June 4.
On Wednesday SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago moved to douse the flames, saying: ”Whatever [Mampone] said was not something that is concluded. He was basically saying that we are looking at the issue of in-sourcing and this is something new we will engage the industry around — it is not something that is concluded in any way.”
Asked whether the broadcaster can feasibly begin in-house production, and whether such an approach is an appropriate form of crisis management Kganyago said: ”It’s not a crisis management issue. I don’t want it to be mixed up with anything else. Whether we were in this financial crisis or not, we would have looked at it. It’s an altogether separate measure that we have to look at for operational purposes.”
Responding to suggestions that Mampone’s proposal contradicts two reports on the sustainability of the broadcast industry, including the McKinsey report of the late 1990s, Kganyago said: ”If circumstances change we have to put proposals to the industry to see how we can deal with issues. It’s one of those things.”