Court backs SABC bid to bury film about apartheid secrets

Court backs SABC bid to bury film about apartheid secrets

Old SA flag. Picture: Wikimedia commons.

A documentary that tells the story of illegal final assistance by the former government to big business may now never see the light of day.

Five years after commissioning, but failing to broadcast, an investigative documentary titled Project Spear: Stolen Billions, Spies and Lies, the SABC has won a final interdict to stop the film’s producers from infringing on the public broadcaster’s copyright.

Judge Lawrence Nowosenetz granted a final interdict in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg last week, interdicting filmmaker Sylvia Vollenhoven from broadcasting or reproducing the documentary in any manner, causing it to be seen or heard in public, making an adaptation of the work or offering it for hire or sale.

Vollenhoven was also given two weeks to deliver the raw footage of the documentary to the SABC, but the SABC was, in turn, ordered to negotiate with Vollenhoven in good faith about its worth and the possibility of selling it back to her.

In 2011, the SABC commissioned Vollenhoven’s production house, VIA, to produce the film as part of a series called If Truth Be Told and paid VIA almost R560 000 for it, but decided not to broadcast it due to the risk of liability for defamation of public figures such as Trevor Manuel, the former finance minister, and Gill Marcus, former SA Reserve Bank governor, without giving them right of reply.

The SABC also refused to negotiate with Vollenhoven to adapt the material or sell it back to her, but said in court it still intended to adapt and use the raw material. It also obtained an urgent interdict to stop Vollenhoven and Noseweek editor Martin Weltz from using the film.

The film investigates the intrigue regarding illegal financial assistance given by the apartheid government through the SA Reserve Bank to major South African financial institutions, which was allegedly never recovered by the ANC-led government.

Vollenhoven maintained the SABC had no intention of ever using the material, contended that she was entitled to retain the raw footage and that the SABC was infringing her right to freedom of expression.

Nowosenetz found the SABC did not have a bona fide intention to exploit the work, but ruled that ownership in all materials made in producing the work vested in the SABC in terms of a contract that VIA had entered into voluntarily and for which it had been paid handsomely.

He said Vollenhoven still had the right to tell the story in a different work and the SABC had not stifled this form of expression.

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