Children's rights vs right to privacy

Published Aug 8, 2014


From next Monday, an application will be heard in the Western Cape High Court to overrule Icasa’s decision last year to permit three pay ‘adult content’ channels to broadcast on television after 8pm. Tanya Farber spoke to people on either side of the fence.

An adult’s right to watch sexual content and take control of education around sexuality in the home, or an uncontrolled exposure of children to debauchery and pornography?

These are the some of the perceptions swirling around the issue of three subscription “adult content” channels by StarSat (formerly TopTV) which find themselves in the Western Cape High Court from Monday.

Justice Alliance of South Africa, one of the organisations opposing the authorisation of the channels, says it “believes that it is a step too far to introduce pornography to the family television which is usually in the only living room in the home”.

In a statement released earlier this week, the alliance said that children would “inevitably be aware of it even if parents attempt to prevent them from watching”.

Another major objection raised was the 8pm viewing time. They described this scheduling as “absurd” and said that teenage children settle down to watch television after that time after doing their homework.

But, popular sex therapist Dr Eve, who was involved in the research supporting the applications for the channels, says: “I hope that the extreme right and the religious sector are shut down. They cannot keep infantilising us as South Africans as they used to do by censoring any kind of sexual content.”

She says she has done extensive research into the channel hearings, and believes that the objections do not take into consideration the safety mechanisms that are in place.

“The solution is not to make sure that the channels never see the light of day. The solution is to manage porn sexuality education. It has to be a conversation that families have about sexuality, and porn is just one form of entertainment and expression in that realm,” she says.

Also of interest to Dr Eve, who has conducted research into what children are accessing online, is the fact that children are seeing porn on the internet, a digital space she defines as one “much more concerning than television because of the lack of parental skills and ability to manage the situations that go with it”.

William Bird, head of Media Monitoring Africa, concurs.

“I think given the issues of convergence and the increasing access to the internet, we have to accept that people can access just about any content they like anyway on their mobile devices. Even if they aren’t on the internet, people can share videos and images.”

But, he cautions: “We must clearly take all reasonable precautions to prevent children from being exposed to pornography. Indeed this isn’t only a moral obligation but a legal one too in terms of the Films and Publications Amendment Act.”

He says that while broadcasters do have a responsibility to prevent exposure to porn by children, it is “not fair nor practical to place the majority of the responsibility on them” and that such an expectation “ignores our current reality”.

He adds that “parents, caregivers and the media” also need to share in the responsibility, and also points to self-regulation as part of protection mechanisms. “I think that we need a nuanced approach in our current media context,” he says, “one that sees that as much as we need to protect children, we also need to ensure we give them the skills to self-regulate.”

Bird says this is the sort of approach being taken in different Western European nations, and suggested it is one that could be emulated.

Cause for Justice, a non-profit human rights organisation, supports the arguments put forward by the Justice Alliance of South Africa (Jasa).

They released a statement earlier this week which said they were opposing the channels on the ground that, “One of our primary objectives is to stand against the abuse and misappropriation of constitutional rights and freedoms, especially where it occurs at the expense of constitutionally protected persons or groups.”

They said they were “motivated by an honest and sincere concern for the people of South Africa”, and submitted that “the risk of harm to society from allowing pornography to be broadcast in South Africa, even in a subscription service environment, far outweighs the potential benefit to be gained by the members of our society from having access thereto on their television screens”.

But, says Dr Eve, “There is huge evidence to support the notion that countries with porn channels have a lower incidence of HIV and people having multiple partners.”

She said a common argument was that the channels would “increase rape or turn people into addicts”, but refuted this saying that research had proven otherwise. “It is not going to increase rape or turn people into addicts – it just doesn’t do that,” she said.

Cause for Justice, however, claims that the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) did not follow a fair process in making its decision.

It claims, for example, that Icasa “did not give the South African public adequate notice or time to consider and meaningfully respond to the application”.

For Jasa, the fault lay in Icasa’s failure to adhere to their obligation under the Broadcasting Act (1999) “to consider the moral and spiritual implications of TV channels” and that there must be “mutually respectful co-existence between the secular and the sacred”.

But Dr Eve advocates for taking the issue on and using it as a learning tool.

She said that expressions of sexuality were “always a teachable moment” and that parents have the right to privacy.

“Kids don’t need to know what their parents are watching, and if they do, it is a wonderful teachable moment.”

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