Local producers at boiling point

2013-03-31 10:00

South Africa’s TV production sector is considering legal proceedings that will see the sector’s regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), taken to the high court to explain why it has not been monitoring the SABC’s local programming content.

Icasa is legally mandated to issue an annual report on whether the country’s TV channels are delivering on their mandates.

But in its 13 years since inception, Icasa has delivered only two such reports – and one of them concluded that SABC was not delivering enough local programmes in several categories.

Now the industry, which estimates it is losing between R350 million and R500 million annually because of the drop in local content commissions, has had enough.

The action against Icasa is being brought by the South African Screen Federation (Sasfed) with legal representation from the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI).

Sasfed is an umbrella body whose members include producers, writers, actors, casting agents, editors and documentary filmmakers.

“Before launching an application to the high court we decided to first send a letter to Icasa’s complaints and compliance committee,” said Sasfed co-chair Marc Schwinges.

“They’ve responded that they don’t have jurisdiction over Icasa itself, so now we have no option but to proceed with the action to seek an order to compel Icasa to fulfil its statutory obligations in the monitoring of local content,” he said.

A letter, which was sent by FXI lawyer Sheniece Linderboom to Icasa this week, noted that Sasfed had made numerous efforts over the years to engage with Icasa on the monitoring of all local TV channels.

It reads: “Icasa has not made any meaningful attempt to investigate the allegation pertaining to SABC’s failure to properly report on local content.”

Schwinges said: “Producers report that the SABC hasn’t put out a call for proposals in years. Very little was actually commissioned off the last one they issued a year-and-a-half ago. SABC admitted to Parliament that the area they have made savings on is local content. They haven’t cut back on overheads or staff but on programming.”

Ramadan Suleman, the co-chair at Sasfed, said a lack of SABC monitoring “has resulted in an increasing reliance on the same recycled, mostly American series” and “a dramatic increase in repeats of local series and films dating back 10 years”.

The industry, said Suleman, is reeling.

“Many producers have gone bust, actors have changed careers for survival. The pool of professional writers and skilled technicians, built over many years, is lost and will take many, many more years to rebuild.”

This week, Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka said: “Icasa has received a letter from FXI and a response has been forwarded to that effect. The authority will engage the FXI further on this matter, should a need arise.”

He said three compliance reports on the SABC had been prepared, not two, but that Icasa only had the capacity to monitor six-month periods.

Annual monitoring, Maleka said, “depended on the availability of resources to the authority”.

He said Icasa had recently awarded a R10 million tender to a company called Muvoni BSCS to “supply the authority with broadcasting monitoring equipment”, which will “assist it to intensify its monitoring systems and be able to retrieve any broadcast content at any time without having to request recordings from licensees”.

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