South African filmmakers have issued a declaration on threats facing the independent production sector. The declaration backs calls for a government bail-out of the SABC, criticises the broadcasting regulator Icasa for failing to monitor compliance, and calls for a number of measure to build the domestic creative industries.

Industry Declaration
from People 2 People Conference 2009
Presented on behalf of the industry by:

• Rehad Desai – People to People / TVIEC / SASFED
• Simon Wilkie – Southern African Representative – Southern Africa Communications for Development (SACOD) / Namibia Rep.
• Harriet Gavshorn – TVIEC / Independent Producers Organisation (IPO)
• Kate Skinner – Save our SABC: Reclaiming our Public Broadcaster Coordinator
• Marc Schwinges – SASFED / DFA
• Khalid Shamis – SASFED / TPA / DFA

Edited and contributed to by: Ingrid Gavshorn – DFA / SACOD and Eugene Paramoer

on Saturday the 12 September 2009, Goethe-Institute, Parkwood, Johannesburg, and edited with further audience input.

We the producers and directors of public service programming have come together at the People to People Conference to make the following statement:

The conference has highlighted the number of threats that face the independent production sector as well as the opportunity to open channels of dialogue to call for the strengthening of public broadcasting programming and the support for a greater diversity of work – including documentary films.

There is tremendous instability in the broadcast sector, particularly public broadcasting which has been magnified by the recession. Filmmakers are being forced to leave the industry and this loss will reflect on the delivery and diversity of quality programmes in the future.

Public broadcasting has been weakened by the proliferation of private broadcasters.  In South Africa, where most people are unable to pay for subscription programming, and the gap between the wealthy and the poor is still so substantial, the public broadcaster has to be made stronger, and has to be well funded. It has a critical role to play in the strengthening of our democracy and the representation of a diversity of voices and ideas.

Producers are required to be a critical part of the moral conscience of our country. Documentary filmmakers in particular are on the side of the poor and the marginalised and are the protectors of our democracy. They represent the diversity of our culture and our country. Yet they work under increasingly untenable conditions. Budgets have continued to decrease and we are now expected to produce quality work at the same cost per minute as 10 years ago. South African filmmakers make films at one fifth of the budget of their international counterparts.

ICASA as our broadcast regulator has failed to finalise a single compliance report on the public broadcaster, that amounting to seven years of absent, but legally required reports. Even available reports for private broadcasters, are seriously lacking, as they do not deal with all required regulations and use no accurate monitoring techniques.

As filmmakers we played a part in the creation of the public broadcaster and the independent regulator, but we believe we have not been vigilant enough to protect the institutions we helped to build.  Filmmakers have allowed themselves to be marginalised.  This must now change.

We therefore commit ourselves to:
• The call for government to back the financial plan submitted by the interim board of the SABC including the guarantee of commercial loans from the banks in order to ensure that local content is not decimated. This should be seen as a “bridging” solution until a new public finance model comes into place. As an industry we are fully committed to the position that the public contribution has to be increased.

• We appeal to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee to ensure that the new SABC Board will be composed of people who are passionately committed to public broadcasting, broadly represent constituencies and are competent, professional and have sufficient experience to guide the organisation and to appoint a competent and accountable management.

• To hold ICASA to account for the dereliction of their duty in monitoring local content compliance and providing the leadership that public broadcasting needs.

• To call for government to more substantively fund the wholly under-funded National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) so that it can adequately fund the film industry. And in turn we call on the NFVF to review its funding priorities so that the proportion of its budget available to filmmaking is increased.

• We further call upon the NFVF to fund industry initiated and managed, specific research projects, into the industry itself (including scope, needs and affects of certain current realities), as well as into broadcasters: SABC, E-TV and M-Net (including a historical review of specific financial reports, needs, mandates and structural issues) and the broadcast regulator: ICASA (lack of monitoring of public broadcast environment, monitoring methodologies, historical review of changes as promulgated to the broadcast act).

• To call upon the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to invest in industry development by lowering their interest rates and their unjustifiably high demands for a return on their investment.

• To call upon the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to assist us in establishing a dedicated documentary fund so that South African filmmakers can make documentary films of an international standard. We also call on them to cash flow the rebates and to bring down the ceiling for documentary film investment from R2.5 million rand to R1 million rand. We also support the DTI’s intention to simplify their Export Market Incentive Assistance (EMIA) process and request support in helping local film makers in attending international markets so that they can market local content and attract co-production and development finance. Further, and most critically, we call on DTI to ensure that the legislation is changed so that filmmakers are allowed to own their own intellectual property so that they can market and sell their products to build a sustainable television and film industry.

• We are encouraged by the request by the Minister of Arts and Culture to meet the industry and we will urge her to follow international best practice as a champion of the local independent film and television industry.

• To call upon the Minister of Communications to streamline the divergent policy initiatives being pursued by his Ministry and Department and to substantially strengthen the Department of Communication’s policy unit. To call on the Minister not to rush the public broadcasting legislative process but rather to review the Broadcasting White Paper and then once the policy debates have been settled to release a comprehensive Bill and Act. We also call on him to re-establish a local content advisory council with representation from the independent film and television production sector.

• To support the flowering of community and street culture initiatives, and artistic movements and further encourage government support and involvement with industry to encourage this growth.

• Noting that this conference is an international conference, we seek to partner with filmmakers in the region who play an important role in addressing critical issues facing our societies, telling their stories and reaffirming the rights of marginalised communities. We thus commit ourselves to being actively involved in and working with Afriadoc organisers to further dialogue across Africa, and assist in the development of creative ideas, which may in turn be developed and produced for global and African audiences. We share a dream of equitable access to opportunity, and resources in a society free from prejudice and discrimination.  Progress has been made, but we can’t help noting the glaring discrepancy between that dream and the reality we see. In many cases a new agenda seems to have replaced the ideals of our freedom struggles and the growing sense of discontent does not bode well for the future.

In conclusion we call on all government institutions and stakeholders to work together to co-ordinate and align their support for the film and television industry, to work together with the independent production sector to build a shared vision for the future of this industry.