Hearings Begin on TopTV's Bid to Air Porn in South Africa

Mar 15, 2013 9:00 AM PST

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Hearings have begun on TopTV’s bid to the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to broadcast three pay TV adult content channels.

The financially strapped broadcaster, owned by On Digital Media (ODM), said the addition of the new programming would help it dig out of its hole and argued that South Africans have the constitutional right to choose what entertainment they can view in their own homes.

If approved by ICASA, TopTV would add Playboy TV, Desire TV and Private Spice to air between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. as a separate bouquet with a PIN code opt-in system.

"Adult content is currently freely available on competitive channels and on the Internet without any protection for children," ODM CEO Eddie Mbalo said.

He said the company "sees adult content as a key business driver.”

A TopTV advocate at the ICASA public hearings, Steven Budlender, said the regulator did not have the legal right to refuse the station permission to broadcast. “It does not matter what I, the ICASA council, any political party or any other organization think about pornography on TopTV.

“ICASA, by law, does not have the power to refuse TopTV a license... in fact, it will actually be unconstitutional if consent is withheld.”

This is TopTV’s second attempt to have the porn channels approved. Its first application for a 24-hour channel was shot down according to the company on the "presumption by ICASA that the proposed content would portray women in an undignified manner and that it would put children at risk.”

But Mbalo is confident that the third time is the charm, claiming that it’s made its case for the channels clear to the public. ICASA spokesman Paseka Maleka said it decided to hold hearings because of public interest in the first application and procedural fairness in the matter.

Numeorus groups both for and against the plan made their case at the public hearings including the African Christian Democratic Party and the Free Society Institute.

Also on hand was the Christian Action Network that opposed the approval in an effort to protect women’s rights. Spokeswoman Taryn Hodgson said, “Pornography degrades women, exploits them and treats them as nothing more than sex objects. By nature, pornography infringes on a woman’s right to dignity.”

But clinical sexologist Marlene Wasserman — known as Dr Eve — tweeted that she felt sick that some of the speakers were lumping porn together with sex-worker trafficking and rape.

“It has been difficult on a physical level, I felt that I was going to be ill,” Wasserman told the Cape Argus.

She maintained that misinformation perpetuated by the opposition that links sex with violence could damage both men and women. She also pointed out that the fact that many women enjoy porn was completely ignored.

However, Wasserman didn’t think the channels would be approved. “The fear of sexuality always overrides the sensibility of sexuality.”

But Mbalo said he was happy with the hearings. “It was good that everyone had a chance to share their concerns, but there weren’t any presentations that really surprised us.”

The decision is now in ICASA’s hands.

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