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StarTimes’ Porno Controversy

19 May 2013

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A Star Times decorder

A South African pay TV platform recently licensed to broadcast pornography is acquired by StarTimes, sparking public anger and raising the question of insensitivity to religious and cultural tastes


Ibidapo Balogun


Earlier this month, shareholders of On Digital Media ODM the owner of South African pay-TV provider, TopTV, voted to accept the business rescue plan offered by Chinese company Star Times. ODM has been distressed and in business rescue since last October.
But whatever thrill the acceptance of the rescue plan has  provided for StarTimes has been tarnished by huge public anger, notably from South African religious bodies, which find Top TV association with pornography abhorrent. Late last month, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA)  gave TopTV the approval to air three pornographic channels. The channels Playboy TV, Desire TV, and Private Spice will be broadcast within “the watershed period”. “ICASA hereby gives notice that it has authorised On Digital Media (operating as TopTV) to broadcast the three adult content channels Playboy TV, Desire TV, and Private Spice within the “watershed period,” ICASA said in a statement.

ICASA claimed it gave the approved the application, following extensive public consultation process it undertook prior to granting the application by ODM.
“The authority upholds the view that there is no law of general application prohibiting the production and distribution of adult content in the republic. Only the production and distribution of child pornography is expressly prohibited by law,”  addeed ICASA. The authorisation limits the broadcast of the adult content from 8pm to 5am.

The approval for the X-rated channels, understandably, sparked the anger of the South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), which described it as “inconsistent”.  Nabeweya Mallick, spokesperson for the MJC, said the council was “disappointed”, at ICASA’s insensitivity to the rights of tastes of religious and race groups and cultures. “We feel they have really failed the standards set by ICASA. If one is sensitive to the rights of these groups... what about the rights of women?” she questioned. The justification for allowing this to take place was “inadequate”, as TopTV stated that the only complaints and submission they received were on moral grounds. “Every ruling by most of the regulators including ICASA as well as the Ombudsman looks at moral dimensions as well as evidential dimensions,” she said.

Mallick said it is apparent that the regulator ignored the possible impact of the content of the channels would have on the rights of women. “They have not considered the worsening trend of women abuse and if ICASA is not aware of that, then we feel that they are erring on the side of ignorance.”

As a result, Mallick called on like-minded individuals to push for a cancellation of Top TV’s licence. “The MJC fully supports the call for a boycott made against TopTV, its advertising agents and sponsors. We further condemn TopTV for promoting destructive material in order to save itself from impending financial ruin,” she said, calling for Top TV subscribers to end their subscriptions. “The reason for this call is that their subscriptions gave Top TV the financial clout to now screen pornography bouquet. It is the pornography that will sustain TopTV financially,” she reasoned.

Also irritated by the approval are Christian groups, which have threatened to boycott Top TV since the announcement of its intention to broadcast pornography. About six Christian organisations have affiliated themselves with the boycott, including the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa and the Methodist Church of South Africa, the Apostolic Faith Mission of SA, Assemblies of God of SA, the Baptist Union of SA, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference and Church of England in SA are among the churches that joined the boycott.

They view the broadcast of porn as a promotional tool for the rape and sexual abuse of women and children in South Africa.
Prior to now, Top TV had angered others for the same reason. Two years ago, when Top TV applied for approval for the steamy channels, the Family Policy Institute (FPI) had objected to it.  ICASA initially rejected the application based on the fact that it would infringe on the rights and dignity of women and children. But TopTV argued freedom of expression. ICASA countered by saying the right to protect women overrides that of freedom of expression.

However, the regulator did a volte face.  FPI spokesperson, Errol Naidoo, said although they are disappointed by the ICASA ruling, they are not surprised that the licence was granted. “We believe that this is more relative to political expediency than what is happening in our nation. As a result the only recourse we have is to intensify the nationwide boycott. We are calling on all South Africans to cancel their TopTV subscription immediately,” he stressed.

Naidoo explained that any continuation of subscription will amount to support for TopTV’s porn business, which the channel believes will rescue its operations from possible financial ruin. “It does not really matter that this would be offered on an extra bouquet... it is still TopTV. This is a first for SA. The broadcaster is being allowed to introduce a 24 hour pornographic channel into the nation. We believe it will be extremely harmful to women,” he argued. South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual violence against women and children. This approval, Naidoo argued, is bound to raise the frequency of gender and child abuse. “Tens of thousands of children have been exposed to pornography via the internet and television and now we have growing rates of children sexually abusing other children,” he contended.

According to Naidoo, many reasearch efforts have conclusively proved that that pornography demeans and degrades women, as it encourages men to have a dim view of women as no more than playthings. “They struggle to form normal relationships with women so marriages then break up.

There is also a risk of children being exposed to it as well. Although TopTV has made the argument that they will incorporate double pin mechanisms for adult supervision, we know that these things pose no problem to children, given that children today show their parents how to use computer systems as they are a lot more technologically savvy than their parents,” he stressed. Naidoo added that nations such as the United Kingdom and Iceland are looking at ways to block porn from the internet because it is causing a great deal of harm to children. “I think this is devastating to SA and this should actually mark a day of shame for the country. SA seems to be going in the opposite direction.

We should be looking at closing down porn sites and are instead allowing it on our TVs,” he added. Last month, the FPI announced the boycott at a march outside Parliament in Cape Town against rape and violence against women and children.

South African wrestling star, Nightmare, is also opposed to pornography for its potential to degrade women. “Youngsters these days are too advanced to let a code stop them from viewing the channels. Watching pornography can lead to youth having underage sex and married couples committing.

Tags: Business, Featured, Nigeria, Star Times

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