StarTimes Faces Growing Anger In South Africa


By Sodiq Anjorin

Chinese-owned television company, StarSat, is currently the target of growing discontent in South Africa. The discontent is against On Digital Media (ODM), which is on Star Sat’s pay-television platform.

So intense is the anger towards StarSat that an application has been filed in court for the revocation of ODM’s licence for a pornographic bouquet.

ODM, supported by its Chinese financial backer StarTimes, began broadcasting two pornographic TV channels – Private Spice and Playboy TV – in a separate StarSat sex TV package last November 2013. This was shortly after being granted a licence by the South African broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

Subscriber figures for the four year-old South African pay-TV operator, currently in business rescue, have dipped to between 100,000 and 120,000 from 150 000 a few years ago.

When asked recently how many StarSat subscribers have subscribed to the specific porn channels as part of a separate bouquet in the last six months, ODM declined to provide subscriber figures, citing confidential company information.

Leading the opposition to the porn broadcast is the group, Doctors for Life, which represents 1, 400 doctors. The non-governmental body, which submitted a court application at the High Court in Pretoria, has now seen its application being joined to the applications of the Justice Alliance of South Africa (JASA) and the Cause for Justice organisations that submitted their applications in the Western Cape High Court.

JASA and Cause for Justice contend that South Africa’s broadcasting regulator, which initially rejected ODM’s porn channels application before approving it a year later, acted illegally by failing to consider that the constitutional rights of children outweigh the rights of StarSat’s freedom of expression.

In its application, Doctors for Life, contends among other things, that pornographic images are addictive and have the potential to be harmful to the human brain in ways similar to those of substances like heroin, cocaine and LSD.

Doctors for Life based its position on a recent study by German doctors, which suggest that watching pornography may result in reduction in the activity of certain areas of the brain.

The new study discovers that men that watch a lot of pornography tend to have less gray matter volume as well as less activity in the region of the brain linked to rewards.

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The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, which analysed a relatively small sample, but offers the first evidence that could lead to the establishment of a link between exposure to pornography and brain size. It, however, did not determine whether watching porn leads to the decreased volume and activity, or if people born with certain brain characteristics watch more porn.

Authors of the study questioned 64 healthy men aged 21 to 45 about their porn watching habits. They also examined how their brains reacted to pornographic images and took images of their brains in order to measure volume.

The results show that the brain region activated when people view sexual stimuli is less active in men who watch a lot of pornography. It also shows the part of the brain associated with processing rewards is smaller in men who view pornography more often.

JASA, through its application, is requesting the court to review the broadcasting regulator’s decision in granting a licence for porn television channels to StarSat, formerly TopTV, and for ICASA to ensure a correct application of the law and broadcasting regulations.

The current wave of anger is a continuation of what began last year, when ODM (operating as TopTV) was licensed to broadcast three adult content channels—Playboy TV, Desire TV, and Private Spice in South Africa. Late last year, ODM’s shareholders voted to accept the business rescue plan offered by StarTimes, following a slump in fortunes.

The rescue plan was, however, hit by a gust of public disapproval, chiefly from South African religious organisations.

South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council, MJC, described ICASA’s decision to grant licence for pornographic broadcast 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?” asked Mallick.

ODM was launched in 2010 as TopTV with 68per cent black ownership and the aim to provide viewers with more choice and affordability. Given the success of MultiChoice, investors dived in and pouring in huge amounts to support the new offering. However, things went awry and the company was placed under business rescue. At the time it went under rescue, subscriber numbers were between 140,000 and 150,000. Original estimates were that the company would break even at 350,000 subscribers.

•Anjorin wrote from Kubwa.