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Sunday, December 8, 2013


Jessica Pitchford charts Carte Blanche’s 25-year course with pride, accomplishment and a touch of humour. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Celebrating Carte Blanche’s 25th anniversary, its managing editor Jessica Pitchford records the popular television programme’s history to date in a book titled Carte Blanche: The Stories Behind the Stories. The process involved months of going through old tapes, created when television was in black and white, and before programmes were handled on computers and digital media.

Carte Blanche was started in August 1988 by the pay-TV channel M-Net and has won 162 awards to date. Modelled on CBS’s 60 Minutes, it was created as an alternative news source to the SABC’s output. It was – and still is - produced by Combined Artistic Productions (CAP) and the aim was to present a “bilingual, no-holds-barred, weekly eye-opener”. The director was Bill Faure and the presenters were Ruda Landman and Derek Watts.

Pitchford charts Carte Blanche 25-year course from those early days with pride, accomplishment and a touch of humour. Her down-to-earth descriptions and pragmatic explanations of the process of following stories from the initial tip-off to final broadcast are accessible to one and all, even if they have no idea of the lengthy and complicated production path of compiling a sensitive story for television.

To put together a book encapsulating the spirit of Carte Blanche, a weekly programme which has been running for the past 25 years, must have been a huge editorial challenge. What to put in? What to leave out? It must have been a difficult process as the passion behind Carte Blanche is plain to see from Pitchford’s narrative.

Perhaps the most telling descriptions come from Landman and Watts as well as executive producer George Mazarakis:

Ruda Landman: “My years at Carte Blanche expanded my horizons beyond anything I could have dreamed of. They taught me to get out of my box, let go of my comfortable assumptions, really listen to whoever the story confronted me with – and then confront the viewers with the same.”

Derek Watts: “If there is another programme like Carte Blanche in the world, I haven’t found it. … Indeed, if you are tired of Carte Blanche, you are tired of life!”

George Mazarakis: “Carte Blanche is a show with many faces. Not just those of the presenters who thrust microphones into people’s faces but also those of the camera operators who craft its visual sense and who become its vehicles of narrative, of the editors and sound crews who create its texture, of the researchers who ferret out the details, and of its lawyers and editorial team, who massage the content into palatability, both legal and otherwise.”

This book is highly worthwhile as it also charts the voyage of South Africa towards democracy and reflects the changes in outlook for some, opportunity-grabbing for others … and just plain law-breaking in far too many!

Originally from the Eastern Cape, Jessica Pitchford has been a journalist in Johannesburg since graduating from Rhodes University in the 80s. Her position as managing-editor at Carte Blanche is a departure from a long career in reporting and producing for SABC news and current affairs.

Carte Blanche: The Stories Behind the Stories is published in paperback by Jonathan Ball Publishers ISBN 9781868425617. Retail Price R200.

(NB: This evening (December 8) at 19h00 the Carte Blanche team will conduct exclusive interviews with some of South Africa’s most prominent leaders as they pay homage to the legacy of Nelson Mandela.)