SABC tries bailout bid

South African co. asks government for $248 mil

JOHANNESBURG –The cash-strapped South African Broadcasting Corp. has gone begging to the government for a 2 billion rand ($248 million) emergency bailout to “pull it back from the brink” as producers and unions threaten action.

Independent producers claim the pubcaster owes them around $7.2 million collectively, while trade union members are threatening to blackout sports events unless they get a 12.5% wage hike.

The SABC, which reported a record $99 million loss in the financial year to March, has been in turmoil over the past 12 months, with infighting between board members and senior staff amid accusations of political bias.

The pubcaster hopes that the new government of African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma, sworn in as South Africa’s president on May 9 following the April 22 national election, will step in and save it.

Pols have yet to respond to SABC’s request although negotiations are reportedly continuing.

SABC CEO Gab Mampone blames the debts on rising costs and a fall in advertising revenue. Apart from producers, it reportedly owes money to a slew of suppliers including Sony and the BBC.

Mampone confirms that millions are owed to suppliers and producers. But he would not disclose the extent of the debt.

Now major industry organizations have come together to form the Television Industry Emergency Coalition to protest cuts at the SABC and lobby for payment.

It joined a June 4 protest in which hundreds of industryites picketed SABC offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Coalition execs say they had met repeatedly with the SABC but had received neither credible feedback nor action.

Now some producers have threatened to withhold content, including those on popular soap opera “Isidingo,” because of nonpayment.

Meanwhile, the Communications Workers Union has threatened to blackout the FIFA Confederations Cup international soccer tournament, due to be held in South Africa June 14-28, if its pay demands are not met.

“No agreement, no Confederations Cup, no TV, and complete blackout,” says a CWU spokesman.

Another casualty of the SABC’s financial crisis is the 11th Encounters Documentary Festival.

The sudden withdrawal of the SABC sponsorship has organizers scrambling for funding to save the event, scheduled for July 2-19 in Cape Town.