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Icasa explains why it vetoed TopTV's porn channel

Staff Reporter

Icasa says women's right to human dignity trumped TopTV's right to freedom of expression in debating their appeal to launch a pornography channel.

The rights of women to equality and human dignity trumped TopTV’s right to freedom of expression. This is one of the main reasons the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) decided not to allow TopTV to launch adult-orientated channels on its satellite pay TV platform.

Icasa finally published its reasons for preventing TopTV from launching the channels on Thursday—more than a month after first communicating its decision to the broadcaster.

In making its decision, Icasa says it considered the “submissions made by stakeholders and members of the public in light of the South African Constitution and relevant broadcasting laws”. It also considered a written response from TopTV.

The decision provoked an angry reaction from TopTV acting CEO Eddie Mbalo, who accused Icasa of eroding the freedoms that South Africans had fought for under apartheid.

The authority refused the application by TopTV parent On Digital Media to broadcast three “pornographic” channels for several reasons.

The rights of women
The first is that Icasa is “of the view that the right of women to equality and human dignity overrides TopTV’s right to freedom of expression, as well as the rights of viewers to receive pornography on television in the home”.

“Icasa holds this view because it regards the consumption of pornography as one contributing factor, among others, to the normalisation of violence against women in South Africa.”

In addition, TopTV failed to take Icasa’s public consultation process seriously. This “fatally damaged its application”, it says.

The authority says TopTV “misconstrued the objections to its application to moral or religious grounds rather than as a serious stakeholder engagement on constitutional and legal grounds” and “failed to participate in the public hearing in order to expand on its application and take questions from Icasa and the public or to rebut stakeholder views opposed to its application”.

“Icasa notes that the South African government has already limited citizens’ right to freedom of expression with regard to the consumption of pornography by law, through the Film and Publications Act, which places limits on how and where pornography may be distributed,” the authority says. “Accordingly, Icasa sees no reason to expand access to pornography on the airwaves into the home.”

Validation of rape?
In explaining its decision, Icasa says, “Pornography is sometimes defined as any material that is sexually explicit or as an obscene form of speech. Icasa views pornography not as sexually explicit material per se or as obscene forms of speech but as that subset of sexually explicit material which is objectionable because it harms women and children.

“Pornography is sexually explicit material that depicts women’s subordination in such a way as to endorse that subordination. In other words, not all sexually explicit material is pornographic. Icasa views pornography as a systematic practice of sexual discrimination that violates women’s right to equality and human dignity. [South Africa] is experiencing very high levels of violence against women, perpetrated in the main by men. Recent research has shown that [South Africa] has some of the highest levels of violence against women worldwide.

“Icasa is not saying that there is a direct causal relationship between the consumption of pornography and violent sexual crimes against women. The empirical evidence for this is not conclusive and it is certainly not so that all men who consume pornography will suddenly transform into rapists.

However, consumption of pornography may contribute to the incidence of rape by making it more likely that those, who are already inclined to rape may feel validated by seeing women as sexual objects, to actually rape, thereby increasing the overall incidence of rape. Of course, pornography may not be the only contributing factor to violent sexual crime.

“The factors contributing to violence against women are likely to be numerous and connected in complex ways and may include alcohol abuse, ‘macho values’ or childhood events and circumstances. But the mere fact that there may be other factors influencing sexual violence against women does not show that consumption of pornography cannot also be able to play a role. Consumption of pornography may, on its own, be neither necessary nor sufficient for violent sexual crime [or for sexist attitudes and behaviour more generally]; yet it might still contribute to violent sexual crime if it validates social norms of sexual abuse.”—TechCentral

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