Thursday, September 10, 2009
Hunger Protest - Press Launch - 9 September 2009
9 SEPT 2009
A growing collective of media professionals and audience engaged in a hunger protest in objection to the threats to our democracy posed by the SABC's proposed solutions to its financial crisis. Each of us has committed to go at least 21 days without food. It is a rolling action, with new people joining on a regular basis. We will continue our hunger protest until our demands are acknowledged and addressed by the SABC in a transparent and humane manner.
To ensure that the SABC is transparent in resolving the financial crisis, create awareness of SABC's violations of and disregard for its mandate and responsibilites to the South African people.
Calling attention to the sustained starvation of South Africa's identity at home and around the world, causing the community to shame the SABC into taking action.
We demand that the SABC management:
1. MAKES THE BUSINESS PLAN UNDER WHICH IT IS CURRENTLY OPERATING AND PLANNING NEXT YEAR'S BUDGET TRANSPARENT BY SHARING IT WITH NGOS, THE TELEVISION INDUSTRY AND PUBLIC / AUDIENCE STAKEHOLDERS;
2. IN THE CASE THAT THIS BUSINESS PLAN IS NOT ACCEPTABLE TO THE MAJORITY OF STAKEHOLDERS, STARTS WORK WITH THE SAME STAKEHOLDERS ON AN EMERGENCY ALTERNATE BUSINESS PLAN. IT IS TO BE UNDERSTOOD BY ALL PARTIES THAT THE MATTER IS OF DEEPEST URGENCY;
3. CONTINUE TO WORK WITH THE SAME STAKEHOLDERS GOING FORWARD IN A HUMANE FASHION IN THE INTEREST OF THE PUBLIC IT IS SUPPOSED TO SERVE. IN CASE IT DOES NOT, WE WILL RESUME THE PROTEST.
THE REPORTED PLANS ARE IN VIOLATION OF SABC'S PUBLIC MANDATE
The SABC's mandate is to promote and develop local skills, a solid job base, and the voice of the nation, as their Vuka Sizwe policy states. They are officially required to provide quality content across the full spectrum of South African official languages, and build bridges among cultures.
The creative industries have been built up with a great deal of passion and sweat over the past decade, by a collaboration of creatives, government and broadcasters – including the SABC. This has led to a sharp rise in the quality of South African film and television, more input from the interested public, and strong benefits to the economy. Creative talent to express authentic local stories has never been stronger and the future of the South African voice in the world looks bright.
According to the TVIEC, who are in regular communication with the interim SABC board, slashing local content by R500 million is at the heart of the SABC's turnaround plans - plans the public is not informed about or involved with, and that have already begun being implemented.
Repeats increasing steadily into next year and beyond.
A similarly radical decline in original new programming.
A crash in the local production industry.
This process will be at its peak during the soccer World Cup, when people from all over the world, including tens of thousands of members of the media, will be coming to South Africa - a critical opportunity for the new South African voice to be exported and enlivened.
The starving of our stories, our culture, and our society amongst ourselves and around the planet, through the visual medium has already begun. And further, the slashing of local content spend will lead to the sharp decline of the creative industries. The way the SABC has handled payments and contracts non-transparently has already led to the closure of many companies and this process is accelerating.
It may have been going on for longer than we thought. Regulation 6.1 of the South African Television Content Regulations of 2002, Independent Broadcasting Authority of South Africa (ICASA), specifies that at least 40% of South African Content must be commissioned from Independent Production companies, spread evenly across South Africa. According to SASFED's research, although SABC has claimed it is meeting its quotas, the Independent Broadcasting Authority of South Africa has, for the last 8 years, not submitted a single annual report on our national broadcaster.
Of course it would be hard with the information provided. During that period, the SABC has only submitted three years of quarterly reports to ICASA, and even those are incomplete and unsubstantiated. Not all the regulations are even mentioned and most importantly repeats, which count only partly or not at all toward the quota, are not identified as such.
The question we are asking the SABC is why such a big hit on local content? Local content forms a relatively small portion of the corporation’s annual spend – less than 12% of total budget INCLUDING their own internal productions. Why don't they cut local content by the same portion? Where is the SABC taking cuts that are proportionately smaller? In staff? In executive salaries?
Most of all why is the whole situation so untransparent? Why are they not communicating with the country? Why do they have the right to operate clandestinely and expect us to just swallow it? We – the public of this country – have a right to know.
We believe that the crisis is not caused mainly by the recession as SABC executives have claimed, but by gross and inhuman mismanagement at the supposedly public broadcaster.
We call on the SABC to start by making its turnaround plans transparent and work with public stake-holders to guide the company back to health in a manner responsible to its mandate.
WHY A HUNGER PROTEST IS APPROPRIATE
For at least 2000 years, the protest fast has been used in many cultures to call attention to an unpaid debt or other perceived injustice to highlight the INHUMANITY of the person being protested against. It was never intended to lead to death or harm and was, in fact, a quick non-violent way of resolving disputes.
A person would sit on the doorstep of the accused offender, refusing to eat or drink from even a passer-by, and the HUMILIATION from the surrounding community was enough to bring reconciliation within a day or two. Such protests formed part of the early civil codes of Ireland and India, and were only banned in India finally in the mid 1800s by the colonial authorities.
Only in the 20th century did the hunger-protest-to-death become a common form of political action, when society's institutions had become so INHUMANE and out of touch with the people they were supposed to serve, that dying for the cause was the only way to gain attention.
And that is why Gandhi is the 20th century's true inheritor of the ancient hunger protest. Despite 17 protests leading to India's freedom and temporary cessations in murderous infighting between Moslems and Hindus, he never went more than 21 days. Why? He didn't need to. Despite it all, the society was still humane enough in his case, and his international reputation so big, the powers he was opposing were shamed into action.
Either way, the hunger protest is ALWAYS about shining a light on inhumanity.
Our primary issue with the SABC is simple. It is an inhumane institution. Its actions and approaches repeatedly show that it does not care about the citizens of this country, it does not care about the national heritage it is entrusted with, and it certainly doesn't care about the industry that has helped build it. Its management seems to have forgotten completely the SABC belongs to all of us, instead acting as if we all belong to it. These are the actions of a tyrant and they can no longer be tolerated.
We do recognise that “hunger” is an extremely sensitive word to the South African public. Hunger plagues wide areas of our country and continent. We in no way intend to trivialise the impact of real, ongoing hunger, or compare it to our symbolic acts.
We have chosen the word hunger to highlight the fact that wilful attempts to starve the spirit of our nation are also an attack on our essential rights.
We are also aware that this action was initiated two weeks before Ramadan, a deeply sacred time for Muslims. We do not intend to infringe on or conflict with the importance of this time for them.
We also do not compare ourselves to the tradition of hunger protesters in South Africa in detention.
Our fasts are different things for each of us - acts of sacrifice, prayer, or meditation. But for all of us, they are acts of protest.
This protest is not designed to injure its participants. It is designed to demand an end to a situation of injustice and inhumanity, in a tradition similar to that going back in many cultures for more than 2000 years.
We accept any criticism and dialogue regarding any of these and apologise fully for the impact the use of this word might have for people.
ARE WE DEPENDENT ON SABC?
The SABC has made claims that it's unfortunate that “they” (meaning the production industry) are dependent on the SABC for survival.
Well let's see who's most “dependent” on them:
The population of the country, for one. As custodian of a treasured national asset, three terrestrial frequencies and the right to collect license fees from the public of South Africa, the SABC dominates the airwaves and has a massive impact on the public discourse. It has a radically different public service mandate than other broadcasters.
The tourist industry? Maybe not as much. Most of the foreign visitors will have access to DSTV, and can choose from M-Net, e-TV, and a few digital channels that should be fully operational by then. If they don't like the SABC, they won't bother. That's fine, right?
The industry, somewhat. They are the largest broadcaster. The SABC's policies have strangled local content for some time now, and many talented filmmakers have either moved to other countries, where their talent is nurtured and appreciated, or moved into other related industries in South Africa. An industry is built on turnover and sustained business. Who exactly does the SABC's plan envision driving its content when it stabilises? Will there be an industry left to produce content by then?
The SABC is granted a rare and treasured broadcast license, which allows them not only three terrestrial frequencies, but also the right to collect license fees from the public of South Africa. The issue of these licenses comes with certain terms, governed by regulations, which in the case of the SABC especially are designed to protect the essence of public broadcast and encourage South African content on our screens.
THE SABC HAS OBLIGATIONS AS A PUBLIC BROADCASTER THAT COMMERCIAL BROADCASTERS DON’T HAVE.
THE SABC IS OUR PUBLIC BROADCASTER.
THE SABC BELONGS TO SOUTH AFRICA.
CALL TO ACTION!
We are calling on all individuals concerned about these issues to join in or otherwise support the protest. You can find out how at www.hungerprotest.wordpress.com or write us at email@example.com.
SASFED Communications Contact: +27 83 901-2000
IMPORTANT HEALTH NOTICE: Fasting for 21 days is safe for most healthy adults. Some conditions, however, preclude going extended periods without food, such as pregnancy or nursing, Type I diabetics, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, hyperthyroidism, advanced thyroid malfunctions and other conditions. Our group is committed that people joining this protest do so only under ongoing medical supervision. Further facts and tips for healthy fasting can be found on our blog.