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The TV is broke, fix it

More than a thousand members of the embattled independent television production industry marched on SABC headquarters in Johannesburg on Thursday to hand in a memorandum calling for change at the public broadcaster.

The producers first rallied at the refurbished Atlas Studios in Milpark, Johannesburg, the production hub where production and post-production takes place for some of South Africa’s top television shows.

The parking lot directly outside the studios became a platform for outspoken and confrontational outbursts directed at the SABC.

Spokesperson for the Young Communist League Castro Ngobese told the crowd: ”Down with the SABC board of boyfriends and girlfriends!” He blamed former president Thabo Mbeki and his former spokesperson, Smuts Ngonyama, for ”looting the SABC to fund Cope”.

Ngobese called for the SABC board to be dissolved before the government provides what is expected to be a R2-billion bail-out.

Others called for the payment of residual fees to television writers, royalties for musicians, the use of standard contracts and repeat fees for actors once the broadcaster has sold material to networks in other countries.

The march organisers had asked the protesters to wear red. They responded by sporting a range of radical chic items in the appropriate colour, including Fidel Castro-like T-shirts and red technician overalls.

Placards read: ”It’s broke so fix it”, ”It’s just not write”, ”Act now or we won’t” and ”Proverbs 2010 — and the SABC said ‘Let there be darkness’.”

The broadcaster’s acronym was rewritten as ”Stop Actors Being Cheated”.

Joining the march were the controversial Z News puppets of Jacob Zuma and Helen Zille, flown from Cape Town to attend the event.

Celebrities included Vodacom brand icon Michael de Pinha, actress Fiona Ramsay, Sewende Laan star Vinette Ibrahim and heartthrob actor Tony Kgoroge.
A memorandum calling for the SABC to be ”transparent, fair and sustainable” was handed to SABC management.

Meanwhile, the fate of SABC chairperson Khanyisiwe Mkhonza appeared undecided late on Thursday as a marathon meeting of the broadcaster’s board dragged on.

The meeting, which started at 9am, was still in progress when the Mail & Guardian went to print.

Mkhonza has survived numerous calls for her resignation and is likely to have put up stiff resistance to the latest moves, spearheaded by board members Bheki Khumalo and Andile Mbeki.

Her struggle with the board comes against the backdrop of an R800-million cash crunch that prompted the producers’ protest march.

It became apparent early this week that Mkhonza would have to fight for her survival at the board meeting. On Tuesday the board met new Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, who reportedly told it to get its house in order.

On Sunday a letter from Khumalo to other board members surfaced in the media in which he asked Mkhonza to step down.

He was expected to table a motion of no confidence in her at the board meeting. Failing this, he and two other members threatened to resign, forcing the government to dissolve the board. Only nine members remain after Fadila Lagadien, Peter Vundla and Christine Qunta resigned earlier this year.

Khumalo alleged in his letter that Mkhonza had overstepped her mandate, misled the board and spied on board members. He claimed she harassed fired group chief executive Dali Mpofu and hired a car and driver without authorisation. The Mail & Guardian has learned that Mbeki was the first board member to ask Mkhonza to resign last year after board members became unhappy with her allegedly unauthorised hiring of a car and a driver at a cost of R200 000.

Headache over M&G charge
Authorities are struggling to pin down just what charges the Mail & Guardian will face after the SABC laid a complaint of theft against the newspaper last week. This followed M&G Online’s posting of an episode of Special Assignment about political satire on its site.

On Monday the case was referred to the commercial crime unit. Chief investigating officer Harrison Phiri told the M&G that ”at the moment we are not sure whether it is fraud or theft” and the unit was waiting for the SABC to provide further statements.

The public broadcaster pulled the episode on Tuesday evening last week, citing ”internal processes”. It had previously been pulled just before the April elections.

After laying a charge against the M&G at the Brixton police station SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the corporation viewed the action by M&G Online as ”unprofessional” and that it had undermined the public broadcaster and the ”public at large”. — Yolandi Groenewald

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Matthew Krouse
Guest Author

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