Johannesburg - Pressure continued to mount on MultiChoice yesterday after it stopped broadcasting by Russia Today (RT) on its platforms due to the conflict in Ukraine.
The communications regulatory authority, political parties and unions entered the fray as they questioned MultiChoice’s decision to stop broadcasting by RT.
They called on the company to reinstate the channel as it would give viewers a choice.
Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said the decision by MultiChoice would leave viewers the poorer and without freedom to choose what they wanted to believe or not.
"Any choice that is taken away from the viewers when it comes to different sources of information just impacts on access to information, so it's something that we would discourage and the viewing public will be the poorer for it. There's no reason why it (the RT channel) should not continue, and viewers should make their own decisions about what they believe and what they don't believe," said FXI executive director Samkelo Mokhine.
Mokhine added: "One could've perhaps seen this coming in the sense that all these other Western countries are taking the stance that they are, that this would end up being something expected of South Africa with the country being so integrated into the Western media and one would expect that the pressure would be brought to bear on them to take a similar stance.”
Campaign for Free Expression said that they were dismayed that the channel would no longer be available to the South African viewing public.
The SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said it stood for media freedom and supported RT's right to exist.
Sanef said the announcement by MultiChoice was regrettable.
“Sanef will write to MultiChoice to request full disclosure about the decision. We stand for media freedom and support RT's right to exist. There are two sides to every story,” said Sanef chairperson Sbu Ngalwa.
MultiChoice confirmed that as of Wednesday RT would not be carried on the DStv platform until further notice.
“Sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU have led to the global distributor of the channel ceasing to provide the broadcast feed in all suppliers, including MultiChoice,” it said.
However, Sanef said RT had never been discreet about its pro-Moscow bias.
“While MultiChoice says it's the global distributor of RT that stopped providing the broadcast feed for the channel, we believe that efforts should be made to ensure that audiences are not deprived of alternative viewpoints,” said Ngalwa.
Anton Harber, Campaign for Free Expression executive director, said that in the midst of a war in which information was a key part of the battle the public needed to hear as many different views as possible from both sides.
The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has also demanded answers from MultiChoice.
Icasa said the broadcast of RT on the DStv platform was and continued to be a commercial agreement between the subscription TV broadcaster MultiChoice and RT.
It said the authority’s role in the broadcasting of RT had been solely limited to channel authorisation as submitted by the licensee (in this case, MultiChoice) and approved by Icasa prior to the channel being introduced.
“Our licensing and compliance division has not received any notification by MultiChoice confirming the discontinuation of the channel on its DStv platform,” said Icasa chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.
The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) called on MultiChoice to reinstate the channel with immediate effect or face a boycott.
“Blocking RT is an insult to media freedom and freedom of expression in South Africa.
“We have every right to access different views on the Russia-Ukraine war. We cannot allow MultiChoice whom we pay millions of rands to play politics and take away this right,” said Sadtu national spokesperson Nomusa Cembi.
The EFF also condemned MultiChoice.
“We demand the immediate reinstatement of Russia Today, and not this condescending move which seeks to force-feed a one-sided narrative on the conflict between Ukraine, Russia and nations which belong to the hypocritical Nato,” EFF national spokesperson Sinawo Tambo said.