Kevin Harris vs. etv – ICASA hearing 9th & 10th April 2015

On 9th & 10th April 2015, the Complaints & Compliance Committee of ICASA [Independent Communications Authority of South Africa] will hear and judge on the case brought by independent Documentary Film Maker Kevin Harris against etv & their holding company SABIDO Holdings (Pty) Ltd.

The case brought by Harris concerns his independent documentary production, “To Be A Champion” which tells the life story of 28-year-old S’manga Khumalo from Kwa-Mashu township outside of Durban and what it took for Khumalo to become the first black jockey ever in South Arica to take the National Jockey Championship of South Africa.
Overcoming numerous challenges on his journey to glory, Khumalo took the championship for the 2013 / 14 season 42 winners ahead of his nearest rival jockey Richard Fourie followed by veteran six-time champion Piere Strydom in third place.

Harris’ submission to ICASA outlines how his attempts – as an independent South African documentary film maker – to engage with etv on this documentary production were met with non-responses, impotence & total disinterest.
Harris initiated contact with etv on 20th August 2013 when he hand-delivered his proposal for the documentary to the office of Ms Keshni Rajoo, Manager for Local Production.

He then e-mailed the proposal to Rajoo as well as to Monde Twala, Group Head, etv Channels Division, South Africa.
After numerous follow-ups, Harris was eventually informed that Rajoo would come back to him with a decision on the proposal by the end of November 2013.

On 4th April 2014, having had no further response from etv, Harris e-mailed Keshni Rajoo who replied:
“We are currently unable to accommodate this on etv” – adding that she had referred his proposal to their eKasi+ channel.

Not hearing anything further from etv, Harris went ahead and shot the unfolding story of S’manga’s journey to the Championship title.

On completion of the edit, in August 2014 Harris sent a DVD copy of the cut to Rajoo at etv to which he received the response: “We are currently unable to accommodate this on etv”.

Harris then sent the DVD of the edit to Marli Schulze at eKasi+ Channel who on viewing the film expressed interest:
“Thank you, I have screened it & now need to get permission to make you an offer. This may take a while as we do not have a dedicated documentary slot on the channel that I have in mind so I would need to argue ‘a special case”.

This initial interest by eKasi+ eventually came to nothing as communicated in Marli Schulze’s final response:
“Unfortunately I have bad news. We will not be able to make you an offer for this documentary at this time. I was hoping that we could fit it in on our schedule even though we do not have a slot for documentaries but our budget is very tight and we will not be able to accommodate anything that is to a strictly intended for a particular time slot”.

Harris’ submission to ICASA goes to the conditions under which etv & SABIDO Investments (Pty) Ltd were granted their broadcasting license by ICASA with particular reference to their obligations regarding the local independent film & video industry, where etv is required to: [as stipulated in the licensing agreement]

1] “endeavor to participate in the development of the broadcasting industry by, among other things:
a) supporting independent contractors from historically disadvantaged groups;
b) supporting industry development initiatives; and
c) promoting the development of independent producers.

2] The Licensee shall broadcast animations which reflect African and South African culture and life styles;

3] The Licensee shall provide programming which develops and promotes South African culture and talent, especially the area of music, through locally produced programs which may be broadcast during time that falls outside the South African television performance period.

4] All local programming, other than news and current affairs, shall be commissioned out to the independent production sector”.

In his submission, Harris emphasizes the fact that he proposed the documentary to etv as a mentorship project where he would mentor previously-disadvantaged young film makers.

Developing his argument, Harris points to etv’s impotent and lackluster responses & general unwillingness to engage, and charges: “By it’s actions in this instance, eTV – in my considered opinion – is not contributing towards the development, growth & sustainability of the local independent production & broadcasting industry but is in fact frustrating & undermining legitimate projects such as “Living the Dream” [the initial working title of “To be a Champion”] which are designed to entertain, inform, promote race-relations & pride in South Africa as well as to develop, grow and sustain the local independent industry and at the same time mentor previously disadvantaged aspirant protege film makers.

It follows – in my view – that in order for the licensee to genuinely endeavor to participate in the development of the broadcasting industry, it must have in place efficient, professional & transparent processes by which independent producers can engage with the broadcaster to offer program submissions.

This would ensure that every legitimate submission by an independent producer gets processed in a systematic, thorough, efficient, transparent and professional manner which would again ensure that program proposals are evaluated on merit & not in an ad hoc or haphazard way.

My experience, as outlined in my presentation regarding “Living the Dream” demonstrates – in my view – that there are no such systems in place at etv with regard to the genre of documentary.

By their own admission, it would appear that etv is not in the business of supporting, promoting or participating in the production of local independent documentaries. Neither do they seem to be empowered to facilitate the broadcast of such relevant local programming. In fact by all accounts, they can only be seen to be impotent and totally disinterested.

This begs the question therefore, ‘how then is etv adhering to the obligation & responsibility bestowed on them in terms of the mandate for supporting, developing & contributing towards the sustainability, growth and transformation of the local broadcasting industry?’ The only logical conclusion is that they are not.

Should ICASA find in favour of Harris’ argument, Harris has called for ICASA to revoke etv’s license in favour of a company that has the ability, commitment & political will to balance the need to be profitable and sustain operation of the broadcaster with meeting their responsibility to developing & sustaining the local production & broadcasting industry.

If etv maintains its broadcast license, Harris has called for the broadcaster to be compelled to put in place measures that demonstrate & ensure that etv actively facilitates, promotes & supports local independent documentary production & broadcast.

And finally, Harris has called for etv to be compelled to view his completed documentary with a view to licensing the film for broadcast.

Summing up Harris calls for ICASA to compel etv to demonstrate and prove that they have fairly processed the proposal, “Living the Dream” in a systematic, thorough, efficient, transparent and professional manner that demonstrates that they have in place processes that ensure that program proposals from independent producers are given a fair appraisal, evaluated on merit & that the best of these meeting required professional standards and criteria of transformation are commissioned and broadcast.

“I once again submit” concludes Harris “that if they fail to do this, they are demonstrating that they are not in a position to guarantee that they take full advantage of every opportunity to do what is necessary to ensure that they fulfill their license obligation as inferred & mandated by sections Schedule 1: 7.2 (a), (b) & © & Schedule 2: 3.3, & 3.4 & 6.4 of the ICASA License conditions”.

ICASA has scheduled the hearing – which is open to the general public and media – for the 9th & 10th of April 2015 commencing 9.30 am at their premises:
ICASA Head Office, Block B Canteen, Pinmill Farm, 164 Katherine Street. Sandton.
The Coordinator is Ms Lindisa Mabulu, Coordinator: Complaints & Compliance Committee.
Tel: 011 566 3217. E-mail: LMabulu@icasa.org.za