Monday, August 17, 2009

Local TV Producer Michael Lee on hunger strike against SABC



Johannesburg-based TV producer/director Michael Lee is now entering the second week of a fast in which he is not eating anything, only drinking water. He is doing this in support of local content, the importance of it to South Africa's identity, and the attacks on it by local broadcasters.

Usually it's called a hunger strike but I prefer hunger protest or protest fast. Whatever you call it, this form of non-violent action against injustice has a long, noble history, dating back at least to India in 750 BC, as well as Medieval Ireland. It was used as a method to publically shame a person in order to recover debts or for otherwise wronging the protestor. Only in the 20th century did it become used primarily as a political statement to challenge the inhumanity of tyrannical governments.
Usually when we think of hunger strikes we think of Gandhi and Bobby Sands. Gandhi never went longer than 21 days in his several protest fasts, based entirely on a principle of non-violence, and died later of an assassin's bullet. Bobby Sands was an IRA soldier who starved to death after 66 days (along with 9 other comrades). Both of them, as well as the thousands of other recorded hunger protestors were aiming at the same results: raise awareness, increase public outrage.

I am not comparing myself to Gandhi or Bobby Sands. I'm not saying our cause is the same magnitude as an entire nation's liberty. And this is by no means an action against the SABC only, although the SABC is certainly at the center of it. Its turnaround plan to get it out of crisis is to save half a billion rand on local content, by stopping commissioning of new programs, cutting more than 70% of those commissioned last year, and bundling production into a few very large companies, wiping out the hard work of building hundreds of small companies over the past few years.

Good business sense?

Perhaps. But the SABC is a public broadcaster that must meet regulatory mandates. Let's look at the impacts:

Since democracy, it has been law that a rich local voice reflecting the spectrum of the nation must be maintained. There is no way under the current plan that the SABC can meet this mandate.
The local production industry is a significant contributor to the economy, as each production also employs many companies from other sectors. Broadcasters are mandated to grow this sector. The diversity of this same sector, providing exactly that diverse voice, is about to be crushed out. Producers, directors, writers, actors, and many many others are finding it impossible to feed their families.
The already restrictive policies on intellectual property make it impossible for the producer to raise additional money for the projects, and thus keep the quality of local programs low by international standards. Amidst the “crisis”, this issue is not being addressed.

So in a way, perhaps this IS about South Africa's freedom, after all.

My demands


Treat the local production industry with respect, as a partner.
Stop making promises that don't get met.
Commit to solutions to the crisis that don't destroy the local industry and the viewer's experience.
Make agreements with us that are legally binding.
Act with maturity, integrity, and compassion.

The details of all that, I will leave to organisations doing great work on these issues, such as the TVIEC, the IPO and SASFED.

My request

I am calling on others to join me in this protest. Just stop eating. I'm blogging on it at SangoNet if you want to keep track. I also have lots of references and research about fasting. It's really not so bad actually. I've only lost about 2 kg so far. Join in. You can do it.