News in Brief

SABC is investigated for fraud; the BBC allots £5 million more for political programs and gets the green light for BBC3; the Sundance Film Festival opens its World Cinema program to docs
September 19, 2002

The South African Broadcasting Corp. is under investigation for fraud. According to the Scorpions, a special police unit, the probe will look into ‘allegations of fraud and corruption’ at the Aukland Park office of the Johannesburg-based pubcaster. ‘Although names of top executives have been mentioned, it is too early at this stage to give any specific detail on the nature of the allegations,’ the Scorpions said in a prepared statement released September 11. The SABC released a statement on September 16, saying that the SABC triggered the police investigation in the wake of ‘an internal anti-fraud campaign’ that began in June. ‘The Scorpions were called in by the SABC when it became clear that parties outside the corporation, whom the SABC did not have any jurisdiction over, were involved,’ the SABC said. It went on to add ‘the allegations of fraud and corruption undermine enormous strides made in addressing the objective of commissioning productions from black producers.’ It noted that the probe involves work performed between 1997 and 2000.

The BBC announced that it is investing an extra £5 million (US$4.9 million) in political programming for BBC1 and BBC2. The cash infusion translates into more hours dedicated to politics, including new documentaries. The funding boost is ‘aimed at reconnecting [with] audiences, particularly those aged under 45,’ who have lost interest in the workings of government.

In other BBC news, the BBC received government approval on September 17 for BBC3, a channel aimed at young adults that will be launched in 2003. The Beeb said in a prepared statement that youth-oriented news, current affairs, education, music and the arts programming will comprise about 15% of BBC3′s broadcast hours (the rest will be largely dedicated to entertainment). About 15 hours a year will be dedicated to science, religion/ethics and business. BBC3 will dedicate 80% of airtime to programs specially commissioned for the channel; of those programs, 90% will be made in the U.K.

Starting this year, the Sundance Film Festival (January 16 to 26) will accept documentaries for its World Cinema program. The Park City, U.S. festival says the doc selection for World Cinema will be made by Diane Weyermann, the director of the Sundance Institute documentary program, and festival director Geoffrey Gilmore. The deadline for submissions is October 11; only completed docs are accepted. For further details go to

Discovery Networks International has selected six documentary projects from the People’s Republic of China and one from Hong Kong for its First Time Filmmakers Initiative. The thematic focus of this year’s program is the impact of modernization and technological advancement on Chinese culture. Singapore-based Discovery Networks Asia will commission and oversee the production of the docs, which will premiere on Discovery Channel in Asia early next year. The program is supported by the Beijing Broadcasting Institute and by Beijing TV Station. The chosen six are: Vinegar by Zhu Wendan and Wang Guowu; Those Drummer Girls by Zhou Hongbo, Chen Ying and Wang Fan; Shaolin Monks by Chen Ke; Two Banks in Beijing by Liu Chang; A Paper-making Village by Zhou Zitang; and Time in the Temple Street by Liu Lok.

Cash-strapped French media conglomerate Vivendi Universal won some financial breathing room on September 18, reports Reuters. The €3 billion (US$2.96 billion) loan includes €2 billion ($1.97 billion) in cash to help pay down its €20 billion ($19.7 billion) debt. Reuters also disclosed that VU is on the verge of closing several asset sales, including its Italian TV operation Telepiu to News Corp. and its Canal Plus Technologies software division to Thomson Multimedia.

The Asia Foundation, a San Francisco, U.S.-based philanthropic organization, is making a documentary to record the experience of Afghan women under the Taliban. The group, which maintains partnerships with the National Geographic Society and others, has been assisting the women of Afghanistan after the repressive Taliban regime was toppled at the end of 2001. Part of the work includes the establishment of the National Geographic Girls’ Education and Training Center in Kabul. The documentary, and an oral history, will be based on both on and off-camera interviews. The foundation has had connections with Afghanistan (and the refugees of its wars) since 1954.

This Scotland 2003, a government-funded documentary-film production program, is seeking applications. Supported by Scottish Screen, Scottish Television and Grampian Television, the scheme is looking to commission single documentaries from both new and established doc makers in Scotland. The goal is to commission 12 half-hour television docs for broadcast on Scottish TV and Grampian TV in 2003. The deadline for entries is October 18. For further information go to

Burbank, U.S.-based network NBC has ordered eight one-hour episodes of The Funniest Person In America (w/t) a comedy talent-search format from Peter Engel Productions and Giraffe Productions. The show’s executive producers include actor Jay Mohr and Rob Fox (The Osbournes). The premise is based around a U.S.-wide talent search for up to 10 comedians, both male and female. The group will then live together in a house and compete for an ultimate prize – a primetime-slot development deal with the network. The series will air in the spring or summer of 2003, the network said on September 13.

ABC Television Network has ordered 15 episodes of Granada’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! format. The series will follow the successful UK version of dropping eight celebrities ‘in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates with just basic rations of rice and water,’ Granada said in a prepared statement. TV viewers then vote to keep their favorite celeb each episode; the person garnering the least votes is ejected. LWT Factual will produce the show. The location and transmission date hasn’t been decided yet.

The International Documentary Association is awarding doc-maker Ken Burns (The Civil War, Jazz) with the IDA 2002 Career Achievement Award. The presentation will be made at the 18th Annual IDA Awards benefit in Los Angeles, U.S. on December 13. The IDA says Burns earned the recognition due to his ‘exceptional body of work’ and the innovative way he uses research ‘to dig deep into the roots of our society.’

October 4, 2002, is the deadline to submit documentary projects for DocsBarcelona’s pitching session, which will be attended by commissioning editors from various international TV companies. For more information, visit

The Australian DocuMart, a component of the 2003 Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) (February 17 to 20), has issued a call for documentary projects. All submissions must be received by the deadline of November 8, 2002.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.