24 August 2009, Johannesburg
Johannesburg producer/director Michael Lee has now entered the third week of eating nothing and drinking only water as a protest in support of local content.
He is taking this action in the face of threats to slash local content by local broadcasters, with fatal consequences for programme diversity and production industry livelihoods.
This actually began as a personal, week-long water fast. Then, on day 2, August 12, the SABC announced what seems to be its turnaround plan: cutting spend on local content next year by over half a billion rand, threatening the death of some of the country's most popular shows, and the survival of much of the TV industry.
This was too much now,” Lee says. “Their solution is to stop making programmes? Isnt that their core business? Making quality shows that build the voice of the nation? What will World Cup visitors see when they turn on our TV?”
So he announced on Facebook his fast was now a protest in support of local content and the response was encouraging. “I decided to see how long I could go. So far, I'm on 15 days. That's twice my original goal. I don't think I've gone 15 hours without food before, but it's not hard. Lots of people do it actually.”
Lee says his method is designed to highlight the inhumanity of the approaches being used by the supposedly public broadcaster and its seeming lack of concern for anything but itself.
The total fast goes back more than 2000 years, mainly as a personal protest against nonpayment of debt, usually on the offender's doorstep,” Lee states (an echo of the SABC’s current debt of millions to independent producers, because of mismanagement and extravagance).
“Over the last 150 years, the fast became a form of individual and collective stance against society-wide unfairness, tyranny, and inhumanity. This action is aimed to highlight local broadcasters' inhuman approach to this situation, and total abdication of their public responsibilities.”
With his protest, Lee is not only highlighting the situation for his friends and colleagues who are struggling to feed their families; he aims also to call attention to the bigger picture: the starving of local content and how that will narrow the public conversation in this country.
Local content is vital to South Africa's identity and economy,” Lee points out.” Slashing local content will violate regulatory mandates, crush diversity that has taken years of sacrifice to achieve, and cause massive job losses and company collapses, reducing the programme makers to a few favored companies cranking out in bulk. Ultimately it's the audience that doesn't get value for their TV licences, and the nation's identity and unity that suffers.”
Lee demands that the SABC put a stop to this devastating plan and commit to a way forward that takes the public and the economy into account.
Lee has called on others who support the cause to join this protest. “Audience, industry, anyone,” he says. “Even for just a day or two. Let's let the broadcaster know in a clear, communal way, we won't tolerate the starving of local content.” He advises such a fast be done under the consultation of a doctor, if it goes longer than two days.
Lee is a board member of the South African Screen Federation (SASFED) and will be in attendance at the action planned at the SABC this Thursday by the Television Industry Emergency Coalition (TVIEC).
For more information, contact Khalid Shamis, Co-Secretary, SASFED, firstname.lastname@example.org, 083 700 0149.