Apartheid exposé goes to high court

2013-08-04 10:00

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What is SABC scared to show?

Journalist and film maker Sylvia Vollenhoven is taking her fight to show the story of apartheid corruption to court.

Her lawyers this week filed a notice of opposition in the South Gauteng High Court in response to a case brought by the SABC attempting to interdict the footage and research from her documentary Project Spear.

“There has been a long fight between the SABC and independent producers. This particular case will take the fight to another level. These things have not been tested in court before,” Vollenhoven said this week.

Sheldon Magardie of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in Cape Town this week confirmed the LRC had filed a notice of intention to oppose on Vollenhoven’s behalf and “will be filing an answering affidavit in the next three weeks”.

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) are also supporting the case.

SABC2 originally commissioned Project Spear from the veteran reporter.

It tells the story of vast sums of money – estimated at R60 billion today – siphoned from state coffers by apartheid-era bankers, officials and politicians. A large portion of it was paid to Volkskas bank, which was later amalgamated into Absa.

Although a former MI6 spy offered the South African government a plan to recover the funds, the ANC allegedly did not take action to bring these apartheid leaders to book.

The Public Protector is investigating the matter, but the SABC decided not to screen the documentary.

After it was mothballed, Vollenhoven tried to buy back the rights to her film, but the process stalled. When investigative magazine Noseweek tried to screen it at a literary festival, the SABC sent lawyers to stop them.

Then Vollenhoven was served with court papers demanding her footage and research. The SABC said it had paid for the doccie, hence it owned the copyright.

Now Vollenhoven will challenge the SABC’s “antiquated” copyright policies.

“This is going to be a landmark case for the industry – not just for me. This is way beyond just me,” she told City Press.

Vollenhoven believes the Project Spear story is in the public interest and FXI agrees.

She wants to shoot a brand new version of the documentary, but that is also forbidden in her contract with SABC.

Sheniece Linderboom, the head of the FXI’s law clinic, said: “We definitely will be showing our support in any way we can. It’s an issue of freedom of expression.

“We are particularly concerned about the fact that Vollenhoven is not allowed to make an adaptation of the documentary. That is too extreme.

“The Copyright Act gives exemption when it comes to reporting on current events. That’s where public interest comes in.”

The CPJ’s Sue Valentine said: “The SABC should live up to its mandate to serve the public interest and broadcast a documentary it had commissioned rather than wasting money suing the film maker for an alleged breach of copyright.

“We urge the SABC to exercise its independence, live up to its mandate and screen the film.”

The SABC’s Vuyo Mthembu this week told City Press it is Vollenhoven’s right to oppose their action. Asked if the documentary would ever be screened, he said it was “an editorial decision” to shelve it and it would be screened “as and when the editorial decision is made”.

He added: “The material can also be exploited in other ways.”

SABC vs Sylvia Vollenhoven: Notice of motion

SABC vs Sylvia Vollenhoven: Notice of intention to oppose

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