SABC takes journo to court over doccie
Broadcaster accuses Vollenhoven of ‘threats’ made on radio.
The SABC is going to court to force a journalist and film maker to hand over all the material she used to create a documentary it commissioned and later mothballed.
The public broadcaster has also sent Sylvia Vollenhoven a lawyer’s letter saying she has posed a “threat” to it by speaking out on radio.
Vollenhoven’s documentary, Project Spear, tells the story of R3 billion in government funds allegedly siphoned off by South Africa’s former apartheid leaders, a large portion of it paid to Volkskas bank, which was later amalgamated into Absa.
It was commissioned and paid for as part of the SABC2 series Truth Be Told, but has never been screened.
“She was given until June 26 to hand over our property and she didn’t. So yes, we will interdict her,” SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago told City Press.
“We commissioned the documentary and we own it. All we are enforcing is a contractual agreement.”
The trouble started when investigative journalist Martin Welz of Noseweek planned to screen the documentary at a recent literary festival.
Welz decided not to go ahead after the SABC sent lawyers to the venue and threatened to interdict the festival to stop the screening.
“This came out of the blue,” said Vollenhoven this week. “I was busy negotiating with SABC to buy the rights to my film when they sent the letter.
One only returns tapes after a production has been broadcast in case there are changes that have to be made.”
Vollenhoven has responded to the SABC by saying that the raw footage is with her video editor, who is away on a job, but that it will be returned once she is back.
She says it is her right to keep a copy of the final product so that she can use it in a complaint against what she calls the SABC’s “very unpleasant harassment” should she wish to pursue it.
She has assured the broadcaster that she will not distribute or screen the film.
She told City Press she was seriously considering shooting a new version of the documentary without using any of the SABC’s footage.
There have been tentative offers of funding, she said.
“It’s a free country. We can’t stop her shooting a new one,” said Kganyago.
Project Spear tells the story of a former MI6 spy who allegedly presented the South African government with a plan – called Project Spear – to recover money misappropriated by apartheid-era bankers, officials and politicians.
It questions why the ANC allegedly refused to take action to punish apartheid leaders.
The allegations of corruption are currently being investigated by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who Vollenhoven interviewed for the documentary. Madonsela said she decided to reopen the investigation when she saw the large body of research that had already been conducted by the complainant, Advocate Paul Hoffman, who is one of the people interviewed in Vollenhoven’s documentary.
Vollenhoven and Welz were interviewed on Talk Radio 702 and Cape Talk in March.
A letter from the SABC’s lawyers quoted the film maker as saying that she was “determined to get this story out there” and “I promise you, with the modern means of communication . . . we can get this story out there”.
This, said the SABC, “constitutes a threat to broadcast the production”. Welz was the researcher and associate producer on the project after breaking the story.
“How can this constitute a threat? This is ridiculous paranoia at best and deliberate misrepresentation at worst,” Vollenhoven said.
But Kganyago said: “our action has nothing to do with the content of the documentary. It is about the principle of what belongs to the SABC.”