Friday, September 11, 2009

TVIEC response to SABC press release of 31/08/09

8 September 2009


The TVIEC vehemently rejects the statements made by SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago in his press release dated 31 August 2009. We believe that Mr Kganyago’s response smacks of the old SABC’s arrogant and dismissive attitude to the industry and public and that this is not the spirit in which the SABC Interim Board has been engaging its stakeholders. It is our view that the Interim Board have taken the crisis facing our industry to heart and have made genuine attempts to engage in discussions to find solutions.

Furthermore, the release Mr Kganyago issued is copied from an SABC response to the TVIEC memorandum of three months back; the repeating of old sentiments appears to imitate the SABC’s ‘repeat’ on air strategy. Mr Kganyago does not appear to be in the loop of the spirit or the current discussions between the TVIEC and the SABC Interim Board and management.

Mr Kganyago has recently articulated a view that the industry “should have been more prepared for the SABC’s financial crisis and not so dependant”. This is an intolerable statement, given that the independent industry formally approached the SABC in April this year specifically asking if the SABC was facing a financial crisis that would impact on our sector and the SABC responded with a resounding “We can meet our contractual and financial obligations to the production industry and will honour the 2008 RFPs”. As we all know, just weeks later the SABC admitted it could not meet the obligations and is currently working on a payment plan that sees the independent production industry carry SABC debts through to December 2009. The SABC gave no warning to our sector or indeed the public that it was facing a financial crisis until it was “in the crisis”.

We wish to point out that in a meeting between the TVIEC and the Interim Board less than two weeks ago (27th August 2009) there was an acknowledgment of the “pausing” of approximately R500-million in commissioning to the industry. This is not the industry asking for new work – this is work that the SABC annually commissions and that the industry has been asked to gear up for by RFPs that were posted in September 2008.

However the SABC may like to dress up this freezing of R500 000 in words phrases as “delayed procurement”, “deferrals” etcetera, the fact remains, if it is not spent in this fiscal, production companies geared to meet the requests will suddenly find themselves with no income in 2009 (and potentially through to June 2010). No company can survive this kind of swift cut. The SABC is the primary television market for content creators in South Africa.

We note that the SABC Interim Board has been proactive in seeking relief funding and we see it as governments responsibility to assist the SABC with this funding in pursuance of SABC meeting its Public Broadcast Service mandate in this fiscus. The TVIEC supports the Interim Board’s endeavours and is committed to working with the SABC on seeking ways to save the independent production industry from collapse, thereby saving tens of thousands of jobs and protecting people’s livelihoods.

However, Mr Kganyago’s press release raises many questionable and troubling issues which need to be dealt with.

1. Local content.

The SABC makes a claim about how it has over the past three years grown local content from ratios of 60% international/40% local to 70% local/30% international content at present. We reject this statement as irrelevant to – and an attempt to excuse – the SABC’s current failure to uphold its local content commitments. Further, this statement seems to indicate that the SABC did not meet its ICASA mandate three years ago. If so, did the SABC declare this to ICASA and did ICASA investigate this matter? We refuse to accept the SABC’s local content claims at face value, both with regard to percentages and qualifying content, since ICASA has patently been unable to exercise its monitoring responsibility.

2. Industry growth.

The SABC claims to have grown the local production industry from 20 companies in 2004 to 408 in 2009.

We question the facts of this statement and challenge the SABC to furnish the TVIEC with the list of 20 companies in 2004 and the list of 408 operational companies in 2009.

3. Development.

Mr Kganyago makes a number of claims with regards the SABC’s investment in developing and growing the industry as if this were some form of philanthropic good will. It is the SABC’s mandate as a 100% government owned institution to align itself with the government’s objectives for the country. Job creation and SMMEs are high on this agenda. It is in the SABC’s interest to build a vibrant industry. This is not some “nice to have” extra. The Student Reel Project referred to gives the SABC cheap content while helping to meet its mandate, thus making it a mutually beneficial project, not a one-sided “giving” from the SABC. Mr Kganyago states preferential procurement outside of Gauteng - let the SABC state the exact programs and value it procures from regions other than Gauteng per annum. What exactly, Mr Kganyago, is “other projects such as research and development”? Surely R&D is a normal line item on any budget in any business anywhere in the world. Any healthy business has to research and develop. ICONs is an SABC brag project not an industry development project.

4. Intellectual Property.

The sheer cheek of Mr Kganyago saying we should have been prepared for the SABC’s financial crisis and not been solely reliant on them is outrageous. The independent sector has been fighting for intellectual property rights for five years. The SABC relies on apartheid legislation to steal all intellectual property from the production sector. They do not pay an “ideas or concept” fee to local productions, or for broadcast use in the South African territory alone. Yet SABC happily pays the BBC and other foreign productions a fee for “concept” plus all script and production costs and then only keeping the rights for Southern Africa. Why does the SABC agree to foreign production companies owning their rights but not local companies at the same rates? Without IP the independent production sector will always
be beholden to the SABC.

5. Local content cuts.

Mr Kganyago declares: “The industry is making an allegation that we are cutting on local content, this is further from the truth. The truth of the matter is, as part of managing our cash flow problem, we are deferring some of the programmes to a further date.”

Does Mr Kganyago not read the papers or listen to the radio? The SABC is on a major repeat schedule. The Interim Board has acknowledged that they have “paused” R500-million spend in the industry. Until it is “unpaused” the result to the industry remains simply that it is money expected that has not materialised.

6. Repeat programming.

Mr Kganyago states: “It is very unfair for the Industry to give an impression that the SABC is the only broadcaster that repeats programmes. We would like to urge the public to go and verify how we compare with other broadcasters in as far as repeats are concerned.”

Why should the public verify the issue of repeats? Other broadcasters have different strategies and are not public broadcasters. If Mr Kganyago is referring to DSTV, then he might also consider that they have a bouquet of over 40 channels to choose from and the very nature of a wide bouquet is that they will repeat programming. However, we do not see MNET or ETV repeating an entire drama or soap series on prime time. The newspapers recently reported that the SABC has up to 26 repeat programmes on one day.

In closing, the TVIEC has been working tirelessly with SABC management and the Interim Board to seek solutions jointly that protect jobs and keep companies afloat. Our members have chosen not to litigate and place the SABC under stress for the millions of rands still owed. Our members continue to deliver the shows that South Africans love watching.

The TVIEC remains committed to fighting for our industry’s survival and the Tens of thousands of jobs and livelihoods that are at stake. Furthermore we are committed to ensuring that South African television viewers have choice and good quality content.