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Fresh calls made to shun TopTV over its porn request

Staff Reporter

Civil society groups and churches are once again uniting behind a boycott of TopTV as it seeks permission from Icasa to broadcast three porn channels.

TopTV chief executive Eddie Mbalo. (Gallo)

"[The] Family Policy Institute, in partnership with several major Christian denominations in South Africa, has launched a nation-wide boycott of TopTV, its advertisers, and sponsors," said institute director Errol Naidoo on Monday.

The boycott was announced by the institute on Saturday at a march outside Parliament in Cape Town against rape and violence against women and children.

"The Christian church is deeply concerned that the introduction of three pornographic channels in South Africa will exacerbate the current crisis of rape and violence against vulnerable women and children," Naidoo said.

"Research overwhelmingly indicates the widespread and easy availability of pornography is harmful to society."

On Thursday, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) heard an application by TopTV to broadcast the channels.

Arguing for TopTV at the hearings at Icasa's office in Sandton, lawyer Steven Budlender reportedly said Icasa did not have the legal right to refuse the station permission to broadcast three subscription porn channels from abroad.

The groups threatened to shun TopTV and its sponsors when it first announced its intentions to air a 24-hour porn channel – a bid that was overturned by Icasa.

Demeaning and degrading
Naidoo said there was further concern as increasing numbers of children were being exposed to pornography on the internet and on TV.

"Introducing three porn channels in South Africa will significantly increase the risk of children being exposed to hard-core, sexually explicit images," he said.

"Pornography demeans and degrades women and reinforces the stereotype that women are mere sex objects."

Christian churches that have joined the boycott are the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa, Assemblies of God of South Africa, the Baptist Union of South Africa, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, and Church of England in South Africa.

The Dutch Reformed Church, the Full Gospel Church of South Africa, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, and the Association of Vineyard Churches in South Africa have also committed to the boycott.

"We do this as part of our wider campaign to protect the dignity of women and children in the nation," said Naidoo. "FPI will also encourage other faith groups in South Africa to join the national boycott of TopTV and its advertisers."

Earlier this year, TopTV appointed a legal team known for defending speech and media freedom issues to fight its case.

Human dignity
​Last year Icasa denied the satellite TV service its bid to launch channels that showed only adult orientated content, saying the rights of women to equality and human dignity trumped TopTV's right to freedom of expression.

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

"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," the authority then explained.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions also weighed in, saying the pornographic channels would exploit and demean women and girls. 

"Cosatu is totally opposed to such channels, which we believe will reinforce sexist attitudes and encourage the abuse of women, which is already a massive problem," spokesperson Patrick Craven said at the time.

TopTV is hoping to broadcast the channels Playboy, Desire, and Private Spice between 8pm and 5am.

The initial application made provision for three 24-hour channels, but this plan was abandoned. – Additional reporting by Sapa

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