Andrew Worsdale finally gets to understand what INPUT the exciting global showcase and convention around public television 'is all about' and decides he has to get accreditation for its 30th anniversary celebration at Sandton Convention Centre from the 4th of May.

I've known of this big event called Input for a while now, but have never attended as press or even as a filmmaker looking for partners, debate and perhaps inspiration. After reading about it extensively I plan to finally go this year  but it looks like a very hectic week and my advice is to plan carefully, don't try eating the whole buffet, otherwise you're guaranteed broadcast indigestion!

Input (the acronym is derived from INternational PUblic Television) is an annual weeklong television showcase that has been happening since 1978, that's two years after the Apartheid government finally gave South Africans television. So it's a great choice that as it celebrates its thirtieth birthday Johannesburg is the host city, only slightly older than the body itself.

Because that's what it is. It's a body, not an organisation or an institute. Bill Gilcher of the Goethe-Institut in Washington, D.C. explained the event best in a piece called "Why I Go to Input  for Current" the twenty-five year old bi-weekly newspaper that is the most widely read periodical in America about public broadcasting.

After his experience in Taiwan in 2006 he wrote, "Going to INPUT is like going to a bazaar where the best of public television is freely available and a thousand people are madly discussing the things that bring us together, or separate us, as television professionals in our very different countries back home."

"Not a festival, not a market, with no awards given, other than the honor of having your program there, INPUT is a quirky annual event that has brought together creative public TV people for 30 years. Yet it has never established a permanent bureaucracy or even a physical mailing address." It is online however at www.input-tv.org or for this year's event, here in Joburg, go to www.input2008.org.za which has frequent updates on the conference, a complete schedule and much more.

In his article Gilcher says that Input is "a strange kind of family: There are a host of faces I see only at this annual gathering of people dedicated to public media. We bicker occasionally, as any family does, but by and large the experience of watching and discussing programs with them is so supportive and thought-provoking that I've made it a priority to find my way to every INPUT since I first discovered the conference"

He believes that the reason each experience is so new is because they're organised by a different broadcast organization in a different country, though the schedule and selection process follow models developed since the conference began in 1978.

Gilcher continues about the discussions and debates that take place, "Station managers and executive producers, for instance, can recognize and discuss the real issues they face in the complicated, sometimes contentious production and scheduling process. Seeing how a European or Asian broadcaster deals with economic, political, content or stylistic constraints give us a fresh perspective on our problems; and perhaps even some new ideas for solving them."

For producers he believes the event is "quite simply an inspiration. It gives you a chance to see programs you'd never hear about otherwise and learn about production decisions directly from their makers."

Gilcher is an Input shop steward and as a television professional is part of the unique international group that select the best programmes to screen from hundreds of submissions. He writes that when his group select programmes they always come back to the core issues of Input,
"How was the program made? Why was it made? Why did it take this particular form? Where was it placed in the television schedule? What's the public television issue that can be discussed around this program? Will it catalyse a hearty discussion about public television and its variety of missions around the world?"

One of the South African shop stewards is Pat Van Heerden, Head of Entertainment at the SABC since 2004, who together with eighteen others met up in Berlin this February for ten days to select the final programme out of about 300 hours of programming. In an interview for Screen Africa she said, "Choosing programmes is the most democratic process I've ever seen."

The stewards have twelve criteria to help choose programming that breaks new ground by being innovative in form and content, original, courageous or experimental, unusual or controversial and/or imaginative in their use of familiar or new technologies. For the Johannesburg event 107 programmes from about 40 countries have made the final selection. Of these 91 programmes from 38 countries will be screened and discussed in themed sessions.

The selection is vast Programmes from Europe include narratives with strong African references to programmes that use innovative multi-platform formats from detective stories to a chromakey device that allows historical persons to be interviewed. Four diverse Australian submissions use documentary, fiction, music and comedy to tell stories of our obsessions with body image, the absurdities of growing up and the search for love in a cross-cultural and same-sex context.

Contributions from Asia offer an astounding range and depth of narratives including an investigation into the yakuza to a view of democracy seen through the eyes of Chinese schoolchildren. Latin America has offerings from Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico whilst the Middle East is represented by Israel and Iran with programmes that delve into the provocative nature of personal stories told against the background of national conflict and even martyrdom.

Canadian and American selections use unusual formats (the sitcom, personal memoir, graphics and journalistic documentary) to look at issues of stereotyping, prejudice, cultural clashes, immigrant communities, justice and inevitably the human side to war. And this year ten programmes from Cameroon, Ghana, Mauritania, Senegal and South Africa made the selection, an unprecedented number in the history of the conference that is testament to the fact that it is embracing Africa as an important role-player in public television. The organisation says, "This year we see how different television formats are used to tell African stories by Africans, that should raise animated debate on the framing of the African storyteller in a global context and lead discussion into ground-breaking directions for the pan-African focus of the conference."

Apart from the programming the 1500 industry professionals will be able to involve themselves in various groundbreaking initiatives some of these include the launch of the Human Bondage Project, an historic global collaboration which will tell the story of slavery from an African perspective for the first time. Legendary artist and human rights activist Harry Belafonte will be the keynote speaker at the launch of the project alongside its patron Lindiwe Mabuza, South Africa's high commissioner in London.

There will be a tribute to Ousmane Sembene, the father of African cinema, as well as a session dubbed "The Story Tree;  Re-imagining Africa" that explores the numerous new directions that are taking place in African storytelling. There will be round-tables, forums and a master-class with a selection of filmmakers from Europe and Africa and a CEO seminar called "Doing Business, Doing Good" which will address critical issues of concern to Public broadcasting Executives from around the world.

Up-and-coming African filmmakers can take part in the innovative new project "Made In Africa", a workshop that is being presented by the Commonwealth Broadcasters' Association (CBA), the Thomson Foundation of the UK, and the Documentary Filmmakers Group (DFG) of the UK. This opportunity is open to emerging African filmmakers, with the best ideas being chosen for development at the Thomson Foundation's three-month documentary summer course, from June to August this year. The workshop precedes the conference on the 3rd and 4th of May and details of applications will be posted on the Input website soon.

The concentrated week of work and discussions and viewings is always interrupted by celebrations, cultural events and parties with which the host countries try to outdo each other every year. So if you're getting a migraine from all the debate, you can always get a hangover from the celebration.

Although it might sound like some form of mad media carnival the responsibilities of filmmakers and broadcasters is serious business. Input President Noemi Schory has the last word, "The public service broadcasting cause is a global imperative, as access to the most honest, innovative, provocative, courageous and challenging broadcasting is a fundamental human right. In today's world that is governed by commercial markets programme makers must respect the viewer, her intelligence and not regard her as just another consumer. I believe that this is a civil rights issue."

My own biggest challenge right now is getting a decent passport-sized photo for my Press Card.