Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Producer enters 4th week of Hunger Strike - Others to Join

Johannesburg, 31 Sept 2009

Producer/director Michael Lee has entered the fourth week of his hunger protest in support of local content, continuing to demand that the SABC revoke its proposal to cut local content by half a billion rand next year, and instead work in collaboration with stakeholders to find a way out of its crisis.

Lee says his conviction about the SABC was solidified during production of his documentary film State of Emergency? during July. “The film is about South African film and society over the last 30 years, and how film reflects the nation's efforts to go beyond struggle and establish a new identity.”

“One of the things I've learned along the way is that the SABC's problems go right back to the beginning. The SABC is an inhumane institution, and almost always has been. Their actions, as well as the public statements of Kaizer Kganyago and others, shows very clearly that all this noise they've been making about telling African stories, Vuka Sizwe, and so on, is a bunch of empty rhetoric. In reality, they don't care about the audience, they don't care about the public or the country, and they certainly don't care about the people who provide the content that is supposed to build the nation's voice.”

Lee adds: “Kganyago's statement in the paper last Friday after our protest is a perfect case in point, where he says that we are trying to dictate to them. That's exactly their attitude – they see all efforts at dialogue as dictating, which is what has brought us to this place. The SABC behaves like they are superior to everyone else, willing at best to receive input, then process it like in a black box and come up with their response, take it or leave it. They run themselves like a mini Enron up on the hill – except on public money. They think they know best and yet clearly the evidence shows they don't! It's cruel, arrogant, and foolish – and yet these overpaid fools are trashing people's livelihoods and identities.”

“All we are asking,” Lee adds, “is that they work together with us – the creative industry – their providers - and the public, their audience – to get out of this crisis in a way that works for everyone and does not destroy what all of us, including the SABC, have worked so hard to build. To keep South African television growing, alive, and vibrant. Yet still, they refuse to engage in any real partnership.”

“Hunger protests have always been used as a non-violent way to bring attention to injustice. In the 1900s they began to focus against tyrannical, insensitive governments. More than anything, if people get one message from my action, it is that this unilateral, dictatorial approach from a supposedly public broadcaster is unacceptable, long-standing, and must be stopped.”

Meanwhile, several others are joining the hunger protest today, including:

- Gwen Britz a top recruitment consultant in the media industry, who states that for every one person unemployed, 12 people are directly affected. For example if 150 people lose their jobs from just one local production, 1800 people are directly affected. “It is inhumane,” Britz echoes Lee, “that the public broadcaster is willing to impact so negatively on so many lives and the economy.”

- Thabiso Mafane, aspiring young TV writer and researcher, who worked with Lee at Mahala Media. “Like everyone else,” Mafane states, “I'm gatvol of the repeats on SABC, the state the industry is in because of them, and I intend to show them we are really serious that they should pick their socks up.”

- Ingi Brough, former drummer of renowned first South African all-girl band Clout, and currently a marketing, media, and advertising consultant, who says: “I was totally disgusted when I saw someone else has put together the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, outside of Africa. That should be us. If we're not careful, everyone else will be telling our stories, like it was in the past.”

All four of the protestors continue to invite others, industry and audience alike, to join and bring further pressure on the broadcaster to begin to behave themselves like the public servants they actually are.

Lee, who has lost 11 kg, adds: “Gandhi held 17 hunger protests during his life, and none were longer than 21 days. I'm on 22 days. So I guess I'm holding out pretty well. But I am beginning to get hungry finally. For the first time since the first couple days, I don't really feel so lekker. But I'm still going.”

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Please note: SASFED does not formally approve of Mr. Lee's hunger strike past 21 days for safety reasons. We feel it most unfortunate that Mr. Lee has found it necessary to continue in his protest, a clear sign of the desperation of our industry's current situation. SASFED will continue to offer any support it can to Mr. Lee and others joining this protest, but will continue to insist he and any others have sufficient medical supervision.

For more information please contact SASFED spokesperson Marc Schwinges at (083) 901 2000 or