The SABC has canned the respected environmental series 50/50, apparently for financial reasons — although critics also claimed the broadcaster has a political motive.
Executive producer Johan Botha confirmed this week that the programme had been informed in a letter that it would be taken off air until April next year because of the broadcaster’s financial woes.
The SABC has tried to can the programme twice before, but it won reprieve after a public outcry.
Some critics have suggested that the postponement is an attempt by the public broadcaster to get rid of the programme without cancelling it outright.
”Postponing the programme until April might be its death knell,” Botha said. ”We all have bills to pay. Most of the crew can’t afford to wait around until April and will have to find other jobs, where they’ll have to sign at least yearly contracts. They won’t be available come April.”
Launched 25 years ago, 50/50 is the world’s longest-running environmental series and the SABC’s longest-running feature.
Viewers have started an online petition on www.save5050.co.za, which carried more than 8 000 signatures on Thursday afternoon.
A Facebook group has also been and started with almost 800 members.
Water scientist Anthony Turnton, fired by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research after his remarks about South Africa’s water crisis, said he believed the programme has been canned because it has been too critical of the government. Turnton’s own criticisms of government have been aired extensively on the show.
”The demise of 50/50 is closely associated with my own professional demise, because I used 50/50 as a channel to tell South Africans about our rapidly deteriorating water quality,” he said. ”At another level, this is a democratic issue, because any healthy democracy allows reflection and debate. It now seems this is being stifled.”
Controversial issues covered by the show include mining in the Wakkerstroom wetlands, dune mining in Pondoland, at Xolobeni, and the involvement of a Vietnamese diplomat in rhino horn smuggling. The programme criticised the appointment of Buyelwa Sonjica as environment minister.
Botha said the show had not been subjected to internal pressure, but could not comment on whether the SABC had itself been pressured.
The SABC’s decision came as a shock to the crew, who thought the programme would restart in October.
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said 50/50 was taken of air temporarily to accommodate a new programme, Shoreline, which would interest 50/50‘s viewers.
He said the SABC was not aware of any complaint ”from any individual or government official” and that it ”would exercise our right to explore our options” if the current 50/50 team is unavailable come April.