The SABC is suing TV film-maker Sylvia Vollenhoven, Noseweek and Martin Welz, editor of Noseweek. The Constitutional issue at stake: does the public’s right to know, outweigh SABC’s proprietary rights?
TV film-maker, SABC veteran and creator of the documentary ‘Project Spear’, Sylvia Vollenhoven was commissioned by the SABC last year to produce the documentary as part of a new series called Truth Be Told.
The film is based on a story which first appeared in Noseweek more than two years ago. It tells of an ex-MI6 spy who presented the South African government with a plan, dubbed Project Spear, to recover billions of rands misappropriated by apartheid-era bankers, officials and politicians from state coffers.
In December last year there were four screenings of the film in Cape Town in protest after the SABC wanted to “pull” the documentary due to the fact that government “would not take kindly” to it, as well as the material being too “sophisticated” for SABC2 viewers.
This is what Right2Know activist Mallick Bailey had to say after hearing the reason behind the SABC’s decision to pull the documentary. According to Bailey the film was “highly informative”. Bailey said:
What an insult. It’s easy to understand what’s happening here and the SABC should be forced to inform South Africans about this.
Most people in the audience were outraged by it. This movie portrays the truth and that is why the SABC won’t show it.
No, there is no way that ordinary South Africans won’t understand this movie. What will happen is that people will relate to it – and their eyes will be opened to what is going on. It is the SABC’s responsibility to inform the people – but the ANC cadres there are reluctant to acknowledge that their leaders are not up to scratch, so everybody in the country is living in denial. They should be forced to show it.
The inspiration came after she read the story in Noseweek in 2010. In January of last year, Vollenhoven sent in her proposal for the documentary to the SABC, who seemed very interested in the project at the time. The SABC confirmed with Vollenhoven that they would commission Project Spear as part of their new series of documentaries called ‘Truth Be Told’. In April 2012 the “shooting script” was sent to the SABC. The broadcaster gave the script the okay and Vollenhoven and her team began the interviewing process. After sending in the “rough assemble” on dvd in August Vollenhoven received negative feedback. A quote from one of the emails read:
The government is not going to take kindly to being asked, why are we walking away from recovering so much money?
Vollenhoven remained optimistic that the documentary would air, but she received a phone call stating that the matter had been referred to acting head of content enterprises, Gerhard Pretorius. This news did not sit well with Vollenhoven. She was informed that Jimi Matthews, head of news at the SABC had received a copy. Vollenhoven said:
When I spoke to Jimi on the telephone, it became clear he was not optimistic that this documentary would see the light of day. He told me it had got to the point in the SABC where the legal people have the final say. It didn’t used to be like that. The ‘legal people’ gave us recommendations about how far we could go, but they had reached the point where ‘the legal people’ have the final say. He said this was not the only piece of journalism that was going to be shelved because the government would not play ball.
A question was raised, “Does Vollenhoven believe the SABC received a directive from the powers-that-be to pull the programme?” Vollenhoven said:
No. More than anything, it is sychophantic, scared people who brought about this debacle. A friend who is a senior official in the ANC begged me to put lots of pressure on the SABC and ‘get them to use this bloody thing’. My friend told me the ANC does not want people to think the government is pulling strings at every turn at the SABC ‘because we are not’.
The story is never going to go away. It’s only going to get bigger – and I won’t rest until my documentary programme gets broadcast to the South Africans who need to see it.
Vollenhoven wants her story to be heard by everybody by publicising the injustice – the Streisand effect in action.
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