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May 31 2016

South Africa- SABC censors explosive film on corruption

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"Project Spear" is the story of a huge corruption scandal relating to the South African national elections of 1994. Despite being commissioned by the SABC and produced by Sylvia Vollenhoven, the documentary will not be broadcast on national television for reasons that are still to be determined.

The trial, which was held from 23 - 27 May 2016, has not yet reached a final verdict. In the meantime, numerous rumours are circulating about the charges against this documentary film, especially surrounding the legality of the decision to not broadcast "Project Spear" as part of the series "Truth Be told." As the name suggests, this series evokes the dysfunctions of the South African system and also raises awareness about the history and ongoing challenges that the Rainbow Nation has to face. Should the truth always be flattering? Popular speculation suggests that the current situation of the ANC and the next elections are the cause of the suspension. 

But beyond the broadcast saga, there is also the issue around right of use and the Copyright of the documentary. Produced by renowned director Sylvia Vollenhoven, the SABC sponsors have seized all rights relating to the circulation and use of the documentary, preventing the broadcast of "Project Spear" on any platform and even causing Vollenhoven to take down the “Project Spear”. “I've shared links without checking and been tagged in posts that link to a pirated copy of the Project Spear video on social media,” Vollenhoven wrote on Facebook. “This is regrettable as a Supreme Court decision is pending.”

According to the South African "Copyright Act," in the absence of a contract the sponsor of the work remains the sole Copyright owner, which in this case gives all rights to the SABC. This is not a first for the SABC that has often been the cause of exasperation within the film community in South Africa as revealed in an investigative report written in 2008 by Cape Town-based filmmaker Rehad Desai. “The SABC under the present regime is aggressively retiring to its genesis as a state broadcaster,” says Desai. “What should be a public broadcaster has become a ball in the wider political game that is simply getting kicked about by the winning team.
This case highlights the importance of the distribution of rights before production, particularly with regards to the initial drafting of contracts between the various parties. Pending the final verdict, the documentary will remain in the vaults of the SABC. 

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