South Africa News

Mandelas battle SABC for rights to footage of Zindzi’s funeral

The SABC’s limited coverage of two weeks ago has been blamed for the collapsed negotiations between the public broadcaster and the Mandela family, which made an unprecedented demand to retain copyright and ownership of the broadcast footage, City Press has learnt.

The Mandela family was told the proposal would not work because the public broadcaster was “not a production house where you ask people to come and film and you take over the material”.

The suggestion by the SABC that the film would be the broadcaster’s intellectual property got family representatives “incensed” as they argued they had full rights to the farewell ceremony of their loved one.

City Press learnt that, in their determination to hold on to the broadcast material as intellectual property, the Mandela family opted to outsource a broadcast team to record the footage and supply the feed to interested parties. This also led to the ANC digital team getting the boot when it tried to film footage for the party’s social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook.

The proposal to receive the live feed from a service provider did not suit the SABC because it meant compromising editorial control and independence. Its coverage was eventually limited to only the funeral procession. The team was denied access to the service in the chapel, as well as at the graveyard.

Ms Mandela’s funeral was covered as a regular news story with standard live capabilities. Funerals of public figures are covered by SABC News as part of its public mandate.
-Mmoni Seapolelo, the SABC’s acting spokesperson

“We were the only ones on the story and we could have just left. But it was an important occasion for society and we decided that we might get some aspects of the funeral and therefore we would cover the parts that we get,” said an SABC insider.

“All we had was the procession. So we were literally getting into the spaces where there was no restriction. In terms of the funeral itself and the graveyard, there was no access. So we had to find ways of covering the particular story,” said the source.

Zindzi Funeral 1

“It is a story that we could not walk away from and, fortunately, we had a good reporter [on the ground]. Some people said the family decided on a private funeral, but that was not part of the plan. When we could not reach consensus on what they were looking for, they then decided on a private funeral. But that was not the starting point.”

Mmoni Seapolelo, the SABC’s acting spokesperson, confirmed that the public broadcaster had no agreement with the Mandela family regarding coverage of the funeral.

“Ms Mandela’s funeral was covered as a regular news story with standard live capabilities. Funerals of public figures are covered by SABC News as part of its public mandate. Therefore, it is against journalistic practice and our editorial governance to enter into exclusive deals for funerals in exchange for ownership of footage and broadcast rights.”

Seapolelo said the SABC carried the full cost of its coverage of funerals of public figures and this depended on numerous variables, including the extent of deployment required, based on editorial treatment and the terrain.

Zindzi and Zondwa Mandela

Yesterday, Zondwa Mandela, in response to questions emailed to him, said: “The family discussed the nature of the [City Press] query and there was no obligation to respond.”

City Press understands that Phatiswa Magopeni, SABC’s group executive of news and current affairs, was part of the negotiations with the Mandela family.

A top official at the SABC said the Mandela family offered the public broadcaster full access to cover the funeral, but wanted to retain the rights to the broadcast material.

“There were issues of an editorial nature that led to the discussions being abandoned.”

City Press learnt that there was also dissatisfaction at Luthuli House over how the governing party’s digital team was treated. This formed the basis for the decision that caused the furore last weekend when the party approved a programme that included former president Jacob Zuma speaking at stalwart Andrew Mlangeni’s memorial, despite reservations from Mlangeni’s family.

The party did not want a repeat of the Mandela fallout.

A person at Luthuli House with knowledge of the events said: “The ANC digital media crew was kicked out [of Zindzi Mandela’s funeral]. Imagine that. Imagine saying to the ANC that you are not allowed to film [the proceedings]. That is why you never saw anything on MyANC on the day of the funeral.

“Anything that we had there was supplied by an outsourced broadcast team. They would not even allow us to choose which picture we wanted to use for digital posters. Everything was centralised. They said you must wait for us to tell you what to do.”

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe could not be reached for comment.