for the Journalists of Southern Africa
The launch of the fourth season of satirical show ZANews has been stalled due to a lack of funding and support from broadcasters, despite the show having huge popularity online, writes Jackie Bischof for journalism.co.za.
The fourth season was scheduled to launch on March 1, but had to be cancelled when it became apparent to producer Thierry Cassuto that there would not be enough funding to cover the entire season. The show needs roughly R3-million to cover its costs, Cassuto told The Daily Maverick’s Mandy de Waal.
Kulula airlines has been the main sponsor of the show for three seasons, but has now had to reduce its funding by 60%, citing the recession and a reallocation of their marketing budget as reasons. Cassuto was in talks with two other potential sponsors, but one pulled out at the last-minute due to “cold feet” and another pushed back talks to a later stage.
ZANews is based on the sketches of cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, or ‘Zapiro’. The show features puppets in the likeness of political figures, including Helen Zille, Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma, Julius Malema and Desmond Tutu. Both Zapiro and ZANews have won numerous awards for their sharp, humorous and at times scathing depictions of South African politics. Shapiro is currently the subject of legal action for some of his more controversial cartoons featuring Jacob Zuma.
The first season of ZANews was commissioned by the SABC but the relationship fell apart after the public broadcaster demanded editorial control over the show’s content.
Since its launch, the show has struggled to find a broadcaster who will commit to airing the show. “I think the people of South Africa were ready for ZANews but the broadcasters were not ready,” said Cassuto in a recent interview with Al-Jazeera.
Corporate sponsors have also been hard to come by, which Cassuto attributes to “business being wary of how the public sector and government will react to their involvement in things that are irreverent.”
They have since gone online, becoming one of the most popular YouTube sites in South Africa. The show is also broadcast on a mobi site, on zanews.co.za, has its own podcast on iTunes and the puppets have even appeared in a FreshlyGround music video. Summit TV and CTV broadcast snippets of the show.
The popularity of the show contrasts strongly with the unwillingness of broadcasters and private sponsors to provide support. Cassuto says that sponsors fail to understand the country’s appreciation and love of satire.
“Lots of people believe that the South African public at large is not educated enough, smart, or witty enough to understand what satire is about and that makes me really angry, it makes Zapiro angry, it makes the entire team angry,” said Cassuto. “As soon as people see our puppets they understand that it’s satire.”
“The broadcasters told us, ‘We’re still a young democracy’– whatever that means - that people are young and not mature enough to understand what satire is,” he said. “It just shows the kind of disconnect there is between some spheres of government and some decision makers in business, and the population at large.”
Cassuto also said that appreciation of controversial satire is often a “dirty secret” amongst South Africans: “It’s fine to laugh in private circles,” he says, “but to come out and public and say, ‘I’m supporting this, this needs to be available to the public’ ... is a different story.”
ZANews will continue to talk to potential sponsors, but Cassuto says the teams will also now focus on finding other ways to raise funds, including turning to NGOs and foundations that “champion media diversity, freedom of speech, transparency and democracy.”
Cassuto says the show’s use of puppets has ensured its popularity across ages and locations. “Puppets have a way of engaging with people that other things such as comedians cannot achieve. [The show] talks to people of all ages.”
Cassuto is looking to fund at least one entire year of running ZANews, but for now the show will continue to work on editing shows that have already been shot, blogging and finishing work on some new puppets. “At a week’s notice we can start production again,” he said.