The SABC has acknowledged that more needs to be done to represent LGBT lives on national television.

The admission was made during a presentation by an SABC panel at the Out In Africa film festival on Monday night in Johannesburg.

The public broadcaster was represented by a range of executives from the Content Hub – the division of the SABC which commissions local TV shows. “We’ve fallen short in representing gay and lesbian lifestyles”, said Pat Van Heerden, Head of Entertainment.

The panel acknowledged that the broadcaster is mandated to uphold the Constitution, and therefore must reflect the diversity of the country.

There was however disagreement between some on the panel who felt that as a “cultural broker” the SABC should have an evolutionary approach to preparing the public for more gay content and those in the audience (and the panel) who felt that there should be no compromise in immediate appropriate representation. “The SABC is failing in its mandate”, said Faarooq Mangera, from The Equality Project.

The panellists pointed out that seven programmes with significant gay themes had been broadcast within the previous 12 months – shows such as Society, Isidingo, Intimate Connexionz, The Lab and One Way. “I think we’ve done phenomenally well in the last year”, said Kethiwe Ngcobo, Head of Drama.

The panel nevertheless agreed that much had still to be done, with Van Heerden adding that the key question on the issue of representation is, “How are people being represented and who is representing them?”

This led to a discussion on the appropriateness of heterosexual producers making gay themed films and straight actors playing gay roles. While some in the audience felt that writers and directors must be free to tell anyone’s stories, it was also argued that gay filmmakers would create more powerful gay themed works because of personal experience.

An issue that was brought to the attention of the audience was that the SABC is limited by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission’s (BCCSA) rulings from screening same-sex kisses before 9pm.

Van Heerden committed the Content Hub to producing more gay and lesbian programming but said that the projects must be of a high quality. “We need to see those proposals and pitches by gay writers and directors”, she said.

She also agreed to consider issuing tenders specifically calling for gay themed programming, acknowledging that LGBT producers may historically not have felt welcome pitching gay shows to the SABC. She added that the broadcaster is very open to the idea of entirely gay and lesbian shows.

Ngcobo committed herself to working with the Out In Africa film festival on a possible gay themed drama series.

The audience was later introduced to the cast and crew of the upcoming four-part gay series, After Nine, which debuts in April on SABC1.

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