The SABC introduces controversial new production reforms

05 May 2016 - 19:15 By Kyle Zeeman

The SABC this week announced a series of production reforms aimed at increasing the amount of local content at the national broadcaster‚ but it seems not everyone is happy.

Following the announcement of new “language-based” television channels last month‚ the SABC called a meeting with local content producers in Johannesburg on Wednesday to discuss how producers can help provide content for the station’s channels.

In the meeting‚ attended by dozens of producers from across the country - with many more being refused entrance because of capacity issues‚ SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng responded to criticism that the station did not prioritise local content development‚ by introducing several new reforms.

Streamlining the application and approval process

Talking to TMG Entertainment SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said that the SABC has worked to remove obstacles in the production process by streamlining the approval process‚ thus eliminating unnecessary red tape.

“We know that the approval process has been tedious in the past so we have simplified the process for a faster turnaround. Of course each application is different but we are aiming to notify applicants of the decision around their request within two months‚” he said.

Tearing up the RFP book

In addition‚ the SABC has chosen to get rid of its Request for Proposals (RFP) book that has previously outlined what content the station required from producers.

“In the past we used the book to communicate with producers and let them know we wanted from them. We would often dictate what content we needed‚ according to what we felt the audience wanted‚ but we have decided to do away with that and allow all proposals‚ so that producers can show us what they think will sell‚” Kganyago said. Kganyago says that the station’s internal production team will help upcoming film producers who do not have access to a full production house or team to produce their ideas‚ thus helping develop upcoming local producers.

Push back

While the reforms have been welcomed in some quarters‚ they have been criticised by some local producers and observers who feel the SABC is trying to bring all productions in-house‚ to the detriment of independently produced content and transparency.

“Many of us have spent many years of our lives fighting for the SABC to commission license and co-produce independently produced local content‚ local content that speaks to the truths of people’s lives. We have done so because we believe in the power of well-produced TV and we hold this is the only way to produce a diversity and plurality of voice and yes to build our democracy. No RFPs‚ however badly managed‚ will spell the end of what is left of independent production sector‚” well-known local film director Rehad Desai wrote after the meeting on his Facebook page.

His concerns were shared by TV commentator Phil Mphela who took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the new policy. “Sad day for the local entertainment industry as the SABC announced that they are doing away with RFP book.

Without the RFP book‚ the SABC will commission shows at their own discretion. This could shut out emerging production companies. We talking about Open Up The Industry and the SABC has now effectively shut the new guys out by cancelling the RFP book process‚” Phil wrote in a series of tweets.

Phil went on to explain that the RFP book allowed for a more transparent process.

“The SABC RFP book allowed everyone to pitch new shows because it was an open process. Now only industry insiders will have that privilege. The problem with unsolicited TV show proposals is that we will never know if it is happening or not. RFP gave a semblance of transparency‚” he tweeted.

Focus on local

One thing all parties agree on is that the SABC has not done enough to prioritise local content‚ thus hindering and ultimately costing‚ the local film and television production industry by not investing enough in it.

Addressing that criticism‚ Kganyago said that the SABC is seeking to remedy the situation.

“We don’t argue that we need to decrease our international content and increase our local content but with the new channels we have seen the need for more local content and have called on all local content producers to partner with us. We are encouraging local them to create. If they are able to provide good‚ quality content we are available‚” he said.