Wednesday, May 20, 2009

WGSA Release on Emergency Coalition

The following e-mail was sent by the new Writers Guild of SA yesterday evening to its members. We thought this communication of interest to others in the SASFED fold.

Dear Colleagues,

As you are all aware there is a crisis in the industry due to non-payment of outstanding monies by the SABC to producers, amongst other issues. Because producers have not been paid, they are unable to pay writers and editors. Many production companies have had to lay off people and are seriously considering shutting down. People are being retrenched, jobs are being lost, all of this while (according to the Weekly Mail and Guardian),“the top dogs have rewarded themselves with massively inflated incentive bonuses:

  • Former news and current affairs boss Snuki Zikalala: R2.25-million, an increase of 46.05% a year;
  • Acting chief executive Gab Mampone: R1.95-million, an increase of 230%;
  • Chief people officer Phumelele Ntombela-Nzimande: R1.7-million, an increase of 59.72%;
  • Acting chief operating officer Mvuzo Mbebe: R1.9-million, an increase of 30%; and
  • Chief financial officer Robin Nicholson: R3.3-million, an increase of 18.4%.
  • A 70% increase in the cost of consultants, from R129-million in 2007 to R220-million in 2008. At the same time permanent headcount has grown, suggesting there are two parallel sets of staff running the place.
  • Matilda Gaboo, the SABC's former head of international programme buying, spent R49-million on programmes that were never aired, according to an internal audit report and one by Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr and Comperio Forensics. The Sunday Times reported that only 38 of 165 deals done by Gaboo had been analysed by March, suggesting the wasteful expenditure might be much higher.

· Mafika Sihlali, the SABC's former legal officer, allegedly defrauded the broadcaster of R1.8-million.

The SABC assured the industry on the 12th of April that they would meet their financial obligations. They have not done this. They have also stopped responding to requests for updates from the Producer’s Coalition and individual producers.

The Producer’s Coalition has been convened by major industry players such as Tom Pictures, Curious Pictures, the Bomb, Fireworx Media, Ochre, Endomol, Paw Paw films, Clive Morris Productions, Kagiso TV, Anazaming, Morula Films, Penguin Films, and Rapid Blue amongst others. It is supported by the IPO, TPA, DFA, SASFED as well as individual producers

The Coalition informs us that there is close to R40 million in outstanding payments, though this has not been confirmed since the SABC has not responded to any requests for information or updates.

The Writer’s Guild Council believes that we need to stand besides the Producers in this battle for payments. It impacts on all of us.

The emergency coalition has decided to hold a demonstration to seek urgent government intervention regarding the ongoing financial crisis at the SABC and other issues that affect all of us in the industry. It’s critical that the coalition has the support of writers and guild members.

The suggested date, time and place of the demonstration is tentatively Thursday the 4th of June, from 10.00 am till 2.00 pm at the SABC. The march to start provisionally at 11.00. This is all dependent on police permission and logistics, and we’ll let you know the exact time, date and place the moment we know. The proposed colour scheme is red, and we strongly urge our members to come to the demonstration, stand up and be counted. This would send a powerful message to the industry and the media as to the amount of members we have, the issues affecting writers in the Industry and gently remind everyone that there is no film or TV without the writer.

Below is a news story from Screen Africa that gives more clarity on the issues involved:


Well done to the South African Screen Federation (SASFED) for convening an industry-wide meeting on 9 May in Johannesburg to discuss urgent issues which are retarding the future development of the industry. As you will see from Screen Africa’s indepth report presented here, there is much for us to be concerned about.

In spite of public broadcaster SABC providing reassurance early in April that it would meet its contractual obligations to producers who were owed money, it appears from the SASFED meeting that the Corporation is yet to meet all financial obligations which total approximately R10m. It is shocking that a production company had to resort to holding back tapes preventing broadcast in order to get the money it was owed. If the SABC continues to ignore the plight of producers, they may well be forced to take legal action on a unified basis but it will be expensive and time consuming.

The other SABC related issue is that of intellectual property (IP) rights. The industry has long been in discussion with the SABC on retaining IP on programmes that the public broadcaster commissions. With shrinking budgets, the retention of copyright by producers will at least allow them another avenue of retrieving revenue from their programmes. This kind of protracted discussion which goes nowhere undermines the spirit and independence of the industry.

The Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) representative, Nadia Sujee, revealed that the production rebate was under utilised and as a result R73m has had to be returned to the Treasury for the 2008/2009 financial year. This indicates that it is probably difficult for producers to raise the money needed to be eligible for the rebate. Also, the fact that the rebate is only paid out at the conclusion of production, makes it difficult for companies to cashflow productions. The sensible suggestion made at the meeting was that the DTI should consider paying out the rebate at different stages in the production process. However, this would require projects to have completion bonds in place.

SABC and other hot issues at industry meeting

Mon, 11 May 2009

Representatives from Save our SABC (SOS), the TV Industry Emergency Coalition (TVIEC), the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI), the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) and the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) addressed a large industry gathering at Johannesburg’s Atlas Studios on 9 May.

Convened by the South African Screen Federation (SASFED), a large portion of the meeting was devoted to public broadcaster SABC’s financial crisis, which has resulted in non-payment to producers of commissioned work. TVIEC’s Levern Engel told how Endemol South Africa, producer of SABC3’s popular soapie Isidingo, had to resort to withholding tapes of new episodes to force payment out of the SABC. As per a list submitted to the TVIEC by producers, the SABC owes an amount of approximately R10m.

Kate Skinner spoke about how SOS is working on new legislation for the SABC and mobilising the industry to submit nominations for a new and/or interim SABC board, should the strong likelihood of the current board being dissolved transpire. An area of concern for SOS is that, barring insanity or a criminal record, there are very few criteria for the disqualification of board members. SOS believes that no board member should be involved in government. A list of names for nomination is required by the end of May.

NFVF CEO Eddie Mbalo, while acknowledging the recent problems with the current board, stressed that the SABC’s biggest problem was in its management and in corruption.

Nadia Sujee and Julia Nzimande of the DTI brought to stakeholders’ attention that the DTI incentive for film and TV production, while not under threat of closure, is not being used to optimum effect by the industry. Consequently, for the financial year 2008/2009, an amount of R73m was returned to the Treasury.

The issue of intellectual property rights (IP), specifically as it relates to the SABC-commissioned research into IP best practice around the world, came under the spotlight. While the research has been in the SABC’s hands for several months, the broadcaster has made no moves to change its terms of trade, which sees it retain 100% of rights of any commissioned work.

Transformation and whether the industry requires a Transformation Charter was discussed in depth, with Mbalo pointing out that the industry needs to be professionalised before a Charter can be put in place. It was generally acknowledged that very little transformation had occurred in the industry since the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.

An update on the beleaguered Film Resource Unit, whose inventory is now in the hands of the Department of Arts and Culture, was given, as was SASFED’s dealings with the also beleaguered Media Advertising Printing Publishing Packaging-Sector Education Training Authority (MAPPP-SETA).

Board members of the Sithengi Film & TV Market, Faith Isiakpere and Firdoze Bulbulia, committed to staging a market this year in Johannesburg, but not before September. They called on input from the industry regarding the structure and focus of the revived Sithengi.

SAFED’s annual general meeting takes place in mid-June and the outgoing board – Rehad Desai, Dan Jawitz, Catherine Meyburgh and Michael Lee - suggested that nominations for the new board be submitted before the AGM. There was discussion around expanding SAFED membership from just full members and associate members to “Friends of SASFED”.

It was noted that the Black Filmmakers Network (BFN) was keen to join SASFED but only on condition that SASFED include a Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) component in its constitution and in its membership criteria. For a full report of the meeting see the June issue of Screen Africa.