'South Africa Now' Ends U.S. Run

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The public-television newsmagazine "South Africa Now" will end its three-year run when KCET Channel 28 and other stations broadcast the program's last installment this week.

Last fall, the series fought off attacks by conservatives and attempts by executives at two major stations--KCET in Los Angeles and WGBH in Boston--to pull it off the air. And just last week, the program, a shoestring operation produced by New York-based Globalvision, won a prestigious George Polk Award for broadcast journalism.

But producers of the scrappy half-hour show have conceded defeat in their most difficult battle so far: the struggle for funding.

"We sort of staggered across the finish line," said Rory O'Connor, president of Globalvision. "The funding ran out."

The program's always tight financial squeeze was exacerbated by cutbacks at WNYC in New York, which had provided studio space and production equipment free of charge. And the recession brought reductions in the grants and individual contributions that had kept the program afloat.

"It's unfortunate, because it has provided a real service," said Ron Wilkins, a Los Angeles-based anti-apartheid activist who had fought to keep the program on the air here (Sundays at 9 a.m.). "It's given real insight into what's happening in South Africa, which the major networks have done an appalling job of covering."

For the final program, O'Connor and his partner, Danny Schechter, turned the reins over to a group of producers who live in South Africa and who hope to keep the program on the air in that country.

O'Connor said that at the end he was "happy-sad"--sorry to see the program go in the United States, but glad that it would carry on in South Africa.

"We've been called everything from 'the little show that could' to 'Marxist propaganda,' but we just kept coming back week after week," O'Connor said. "Looking back, it's kind of a miracle that it got as far as it did."

O'Connor said the demise of "South Africa Now" does not mean a retreat by Globalvision and the producers with whom the company works--several of whom are disaffected former network correspondents--from the public-television scene.

The company is producing a segment that O'Connor will describe only as an "investigative reporting project" for the PBS program "Frontline." And "Rights and Wrongs," a pilot for a new series about human rights that is modeled on "South Africa Now," will be distributed to PBS stations in the next few weeks, O'Connor said.

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