‘Lobbyists stall arts’ new dawn’

In print: Vatiswa Ndara appealed to the arts minister. (Frennie Shivambu/Gallo Images)

In print: Vatiswa Ndara appealed to the arts minister. (Frennie Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Lobby groups who benefit from the status quo in the entertainment and performing arts industries could be the reason the Performers Protection Amendment Bill and the Copyright Amendment Bill have not been signed into law, says actors’ rights group the South African Guild of Actors.

Adrian Galley, the vice-chairperson and media liaison for the organisation, said there was legal provision for the president to “apply his mind” with regard to enacting the Bills.

International companies, which would have to pay up should South African actors be able to earn royalties from repeated use of their work, were in alliance with organisations that had to account for the collection of artist royalties, but these connections remained largely opaque, Galley said.

The Coalition for Effective Copyright, for example — which has argued against “fair use” in the Copyright Amendment Bill, because it does not provide statutory protection for content creators — is a vast lobby group involving players as big as the David Gresham Entertainment Group and artist network groups such as the Visual Arts Network of South Africa

The two Bills are interrelated in the sense that the Performers Bill would enable artists to be able to claim royalties for the use of their work — rights that musicians have legally enjoyed for decades — and the Copyright Bill makes provisions for the formation of tribunals that would have oversight over collecting societies.

Earlier this week, South African actress Vatiswa Ndara wrote a six-page open letter to the minister of arts and culture, Nathi Mthethwa, detailing the lopsided power dynamics and the resultant poverty actors work and live under. The letter singled out FergusonFilms, the production company that produced Igazi, which plays on MultiChoice channel Mzansi Magic.

The letter, which Mthethwa said he had received on Twitter, triggered an avalanche of commentary and discussion from the public and the performance industries. It reignited the controversy that the presentations to Parliament by actor Flo Masebe set into motion.

In an open letter published in the Sowetan on Thursday, Masebe said actors would not need to write open letters to the arts minister “if the president could just show leadership on this long overdue matter”.

But the discussion has also called into question why actors continue to bear the brunt of dissatisfactory contracts in the entertainment industry. Arts consultant Gita Pather said the arts ministry had to shoulder some of the blame because it has itself been corrosive when it came to disbursing funds in the industry.

“The ministry handpicked people and funded them when that money could have gone to creating an enabling environment for a strong union to operate,” she said in reference to the Creative & Cultural Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA), a group set up with the assistance of the department of arts and culture to be a controlling body in the sector.

The CCIFSA has failed to account for millions in taxpayers’ money and struggled to shake off perceptions that it was a proxy to ruling party.

Pather said: “The arts are like politics in the sense that divisiveness has been used effectively against actors in this industry, because everybody was competing for work. Everyone is clear on the issues but production houses have got away with murder because actors are treated as freelancers and therefore the health and safety regulations that apply under the Labour Relations Act, for example, do not cover them.”

The SA Guild of Actors, for example, had limitations in how far it can advance actors’ causes because it merely functions as a guild.

Tony Kgoroge, who headed the CCIFSA, said it served no purpose for actors to write open letters to the minister because they still needed to figure out how to take the matter further. He said although theCCIFSA had accounted for its finances, egos and the allure of stardom fed into the individual outlook with which actors conducted their careers, especially in places like Johannesburg. He said the CCIFSA was still influential outside of big cities as a voice to help performers organise.

Neither the presidency nor the arts ministry had responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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