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Unauthorised: Thabo Mbeki Review

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Unauthorised: Thabo Mbeki Review
Submitted by capdog on Friday, July 27, 2007 - 05:32

The SABC commissions and funds a documentary on Thabo Mbeki; then spends an estimated five times that amount in legal fees trying to keep it off the air. Sound fishy to you? What are they trying so desperately to hide?

I went to a free screening of "Unauthorised: Mbeki" at the Kwasuka theatre on Wednesday, and came to the conclusion that there's nothing too controversial about it at all. Which is worrying in many ways, because if the SABC will go to such lengths to keep a fairly moderate documentary from airing, what hope do we ever have for a truly free and independent public broadcaster?

Now we all know that the SABC is a god-damn mess. From the top of my head, I can think of the following scandals in recent times:

  • The banning of certain political commentators who weren't towing the government line
  • The loss of the contract to broadcast the PSL, who have awarded it to M-NET
  • Last week's court interdict against the Mail & Guardian who are still trying to publish a damning internal audit that alleges corruption, abuse of power and intimidation within the SABC
  • e.TV having a stab at them in an advertising campaign with the caption "e.TV: South Africa's sole independent TV news channel"
  • Failing to broadcast the booing of the deputy president, despite the fact they had filmed the entire incident

Zapiro always says it best:

Now not only did the SABC cut the Mbeki documentary from their airing schedule, but they also tried to get an interdict against the producers when they decided to take it on a roadshow. Luckily that failed, and they've since been screening it at free shows around the country.

The format of the night is great: they play the 25 minute unedited film, then the producers field questions and stir up some lively debate. We had a wide variety of people in the audience, including a man who claimed to have lived with Mbeki and offered his view that he was certainly no angel.

Producer Ben Cashdan takes questions at KwasukaProducer Ben Cashdan takes questions at Kwasuka

In my opinion, the film content is hardly worthy of such attention. There's Mbeki; then you have interviews with his mother and a few notable journalists, a bit of history about his role in the ANC and the struggle, his education in England, his roots in communism, a bit about him as a person... it didn't make me think he was unfit to be president.

Sure, there were critical pieces, but he's human after all and the negative parts were portrayed fairly, without trying to be sensational or scandalous. Mbeki is an AIDS denialist, he's aloof, been accused of murder, and he's a bit of a crime denialist too. But this would only be news to someone who hadn't picked up a newspaper in the last five years. Overall it was very interesting, especially seeing the old footage of him as a young man exiled in England.

On the other hand, the SABC did commission the film, so in theory they own it and can do what they like with it. Much ado has been made about the "banning", but in all fairness this is a form of self-censorship rather than an outright banning of the kind seen in apartheid days.

Imagine the film had been produced by an independent studio and the government had completely banned it from being shown, anywhere by anyone. That used to happen all the time, and is a far worse scenario that what we have here. There are still independent TV stations that can do what they like, so the state propaganda machine is a little way off from being the all-encompassing beast that is seen in places like Zimbabwe and China.

So what do you guys think? Are these just the warning signs of dire things to come?
Is the SABC acting on direct instructions from the ANC?
Do they believe that the public at large will not be able to handle criticism of the president?

Let's hear it!


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Subject:  Re: His Masters' Voice
Author:  hedmekanik
Date:  27 July, 2007 - 14:49

...it's all happening at Auckland Park...


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