Pornographic Advertisements: Film & Publications Board, SABC, Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, & Hustler briefings

Home Affairs

14 November 2005
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HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
15 November 2005
PORNOGRAPHIC ADVERTISEMENTS: FILM AND PUBLICATIONS BOARD, SABC, VODACOM, MTN, CELL C, AND HUSTLER BRIEFINGS

Chairperson:
Mr H Chauke (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Film and Publications Board (FPB) presentation
South African Broadcasting Corporation presentation
Vodacom presentation
MTN presentation
Cell C presentation

SUMMARY
The Film and Publications Board briefed the Committee on its role as a regulator of audio-visual and printed material through classification and the issuing of consumer advice. The Board aimed to strike a balance between its commitment to the protection of children from exploitation in pornographic publications, and the right to freedom of expression. The lack of a clear definition of pornography in the Film and Publications Act hampered the work of the Board.

The Board was having difficulty in implementing the Film and Publications Act, as when the Act was amended, the finances of the Board were not properly provided for, and therefore it was understaffed. Members were concerned with the threat posed by pornography to the dignity of women, as well as the lack of communication between the Board and municipalities, which resulted in the illegal sale of pornographic material.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation briefed the Committee on its policy for regulating the content of its programmes. The editorial policies of the SABC were more stringent than the Broadcasting Code of Conduct as the SABC was a public broadcaster. The SABC refrained from broadcasting sexually explicit material and also provided viewers with advisories that informed them about the content of programmes.

Members commended the SABC on the steps it had taken to regulate the content of its programmes, and felt that eTV, as a public broadcaster that was contravening the Film and Publications Act, was undermining the Committee by failing to appear before it.

MTN, Vodacom and Cell C then briefed the Committee on the regulation of adult content distributed over cellular networks. As content service providers, cellular operators had limited control over the content distributed over their networks by Wireless Application Service Providers (WASPS), and no control over internet sites accessed on their networks. All three service providers required the WASPS that they contracted to be members of the Wireless Application Service Provider Association (WASPA).

Members were dissatisfied with the presentations by MTN, Vodacom, and Cell C, as they failed to demonstrate practical commitment to the regulation of adult content on cellular networks. The Committee also queried the regulation of television advertisements for pornographic images via SMS.

Finally, Hustler magazine briefed the Committee, and the Committee requested that Hustler explain why it distributed two different versions of its magazine.

MINUTES

Chairperson’s statement
The Chairperson explained that although the distribution of pornographic material in SA was regulated by legislation (such as the Film and Publications Act), some broadcasters, service providers, and publications were not adhering to these regulations. Members of the public were concerned that perpetrators of abuse against women and children were often found to be in possession of pornographic material. The Committee had the responsibility of representing public concerns and exercising its oversight function through the legislation that was in place.

After the Film and Publications Bill was passed by Parliament in 1996, the Film and Publications Board was established to enforce the Act. The Committee had invited the Film and Publications Board to make a presentation in order to determine whether the Board’s inspectorate had the capacity to monitor the distribution of pornographic material. When Parliament amended the Act in 2004, the Committee invited cellular service providers to make submissions. However, since the amendments were passed, new gaps had appeared in the legislation with the result that children were now able to access pornographic images on cellular phones.

The Committee had invited eTV to make a presentation as it was concerned that eTV was contravening the Film and Publications Act by broadcasting adult programmes at inappropriate times. eTV had failed to arrive for the meeting, and this was the second time that the channel had ignored the Committee’s invitation. The Committee had invited Daily Voice to make a presentation, as it was one of the newspapers that were publishing pornographic images ‘deliberately’ (Daily Voice also failed to arrive for the meeting). The Committee had invited Hustler magazine to explain why it was publishing two versions of its magazine: one for SA, which was ‘hard pornography’, and one for the rest of the world, which was ‘softer’.

Film and Publications Board briefing
Ms Shokie Bopape-Dlomo (Film and Publications Board: Chief Executive Officer) stated that the role of the Film and Publications Board (FPB) was to regulate the online and offline distribution of films and publications through classification and the issuing of consumer advice. The FPB was committed to the prevention of the exploitative use of children in pornographic publications and websites, and employed content analysts to search SA websites for child pornography. However, the Board aimed to strike a balance between its commitment to the protection of children and the right to freedom of expression.

The lack of a clear definition of pornography in the Film and Publications Act hampered the work of the FPB, and the Committee should bear this in mind when it considered amendments to the Act. The FPB was satisfied with the definition of child pornography in the Act, as this definition included virtual representations of children.

The production of pornography involved the sexual exploitation of women and children, and a survey by Childline SA showed that 90% of offenders against children were linked to child pornography. The FPB found that exposure to pornography had a negative impact on its classifiers and child protection workers, to whom it offered counselling. However, the production of pornography contributed to the economy, and ‘demand seemed to be high’.

The FPB aimed to improve its regulatory function by, first, conducting comprehensive research into the effects of pornography on SA society, and second, licensing participants in the industry, such as adult shops, more effectively.

Discussion
Mr S Swart (ACDP) declared that the ACDP’s stance was ‘anti-pornography’. Although the ACDP respected the constitutional court decision to legalise the distribution of pornography, the party believed that pornography should be abolished, as ‘pornography is the theory, rape is the practice’. He asked in what ways the FPB was having difficulty in implementing the Film and Publications Act, and how the FPB was combating the threat posed by pornography to women.

Ms Bopape-Dlomo responded that, regardless of her personal views on pornography, the distribution of pornography in SA was not illegal, and therefore consenting adults were entitled to use pornographic material. According to the Film and Publications Act, the FPB should ensure that the dignity of citizens was maintained, but it was the responsibility of independent groups to lobby for the rights of women.

The FPB was having difficulty in implementing the Film and Publications Act as when the Act was amended, the finances of the FPB were not properly provided for. In consequence, the FPB was understaffed and was without trained personnel in the area of information and computer technology.

Ms S Kalyan (DA) enquired what would be done to define pornography more comprehensively as it was not clearly defined in the Film and Publications Act. The Chairperson answered that the Committee was responsible for revising the definition of pornography when it amended the Film and Publications Act.

Mr M Sibande (ANC) suggested that the FPB should balance the contribution of the pornography industry to the economy against the dignity of citizens. He also noted that there was a communication problem between the FPB and the municipalities, which could result in the illegal sale of pornographic material. The Chairperson added that an unlicensed adult shop opposite Parliament had remained open due to a lack of communication between the FPB and the Cape Town municipality. The Committee should assist the FPB in building the capacity to monitor the licensing of adult shops.

Mr J Theron (Hustler magazine) insisted that no research had yet been done on the effects of pornography on SA society, and asked where the FPB had obtained its statistics on offenders against children. Ms Bopape-Dlomo conceded that SA relied heavily on international research on the social effects of pornography. However, research conducted by Childline SA showed that 90% of offenders against children in SA were linked to child pornography.

The Chairperson queried how the FPB was regulating adult content accessed through internet and cellular service providers. Ms Bopape-Dlomo acknowledged that the problem of regulating pornographic content on the internet was a worldwide problem. While the FPB was monitoring the content of SA websites, it was unable to follow up particular cases due to a lack of resources. The FPB commended cellular service providers on formulating a code of conduct on the distribution of pornographic images. The FPB was unable to regulate advertisements in newspapers as these were excluded from the Film and Publications Act.

South African Broadcasting Corporation briefing
Ms Gugu Nyanda (South African Broadcasting Corporation General Manager: Public Affairs) outlined the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC’s) policy on regulating the content of its programmes. The broadcasting industry was relatively easy to monitor as all programming was governed by the Broadcasting Code of Conduct that was administered by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA (BCCSA). The editorial policies of the SABC were more stringent than the Code of Conduct as the SABC was a public broadcaster with a public mandate.

Mr Fakir Hassen (Manager: SABC Broadcast Compliance) explained that the Broadcasting Code of Conduct was predicated on the principle of allowing viewers the freedom to choose what they watched. The SABC’s role was to provide audience advisories that allowed viewers to make these choices. The Code of Conduct provided for a television ‘watershed’ period (from 21:00 to 05:00) during which ‘progressively less suitable content’ could be broadcast. During the watershed period, parents bore the responsibility for deciding what their children could watch. However, the SABC was sensitive in its scheduling, even during the watershed period, and took into account school holidays and religious festivals.

The SABC employed selectors who classified the content of programmes and attached the standardised warning symbols that were displayed 60 seconds before the beginning of each programme. The SABC did not broadcast sexually explicit (XX – rated) material or material portraying sexual violence or exploitative sexual relations. This restriction did not apply to the content of documentaries and educational programmes, which should be approved at senior executive level.

Discussion
Mr Sibande expressed concern about the portrayal of a black woman on a Joko advertisement aired by SABC, which seemed to impair the dignity of women. He also enquired what the SABC’s policy was on reporting incidences of violence and broadcasting images of dead bodies. Ms N Gxowa (ANC) stressed that the representation of a black woman in the Joko advertisement reminded her of the time of slavery and also had pornographic connotations. She queried whether parents could monitor the programmes that their children watched when their children were independent.

Ms Nyande responded that the SABC had heard concerns about the stereotyping of black women in the Joko advertisement, but this was the first time that it had heard of the apparent association of the advertisement with pornography. Public concerns about advertisements broadcast by the SABC should be expressed through the BCCSA. Mr Hassen added that the SABC had a particular editorial policy relating to news that prohibited the representation of dead bodies.

Mr Swart commended the SABC on the steps it had taken to regulate the content of its programmes. He enquired how the SABC’s policy took into account children who were beyond parental control through being at home alone or part of child-headed households. He also asked whether the SABC investigated the website links on advertisements for Short Message Service (SMS) competitions before these advertisements were broadcast.

Ms Nyanda replied that the SABC hoped to obtain more input from civil society on the matter of parental control over child viewers. Mr Hassen added that the SABC had a process for investigating the website links on advertisements for SMS competitions, and advertisements with links to pornographic websites were rejected.

Mr W Skhosana (ANC) queried whether the SABC was broadcasting The Bold and the Beautiful at an appropriate time (17:00) as it seemed to have a questionable moral effect on children. Mr Hassen replied that The Bold and the Beautiful was ‘pure entertainment’, and advisory symbols were displayed on soap operas indicating when parental guidance was appropriate.

The Chairperson noted that eTV accepted many of the advertisements and programmes rejected by the SABC editorial board. eTV was ‘not taking the word of the Committee seriously’, and it was ‘unacceptable’ that eTV had for the second time failed to attend a Committee meeting to which it was invited (the first time was when the Committee was considering amendments to the Film and Publications Act). eTV had also failed to attend a conference on child pornography held in the Eastern Cape.

Mr Swart felt that it was ‘deplorable’ that eTV, as a public broadcaster that had contravened the Film and Publications Act, should fail to appear before the Committee. He urged that the Chairperson should exert his constitutional power to subpoena eTV to the Committee. Ms Kalyan asserted that eTV was not taking its social responsibility seriously, and Ms Gxowa reiterated that eTV was undermining the Committee and should be ‘dealt with accordingly’.

MTN briefing
Mr Graham de Vries (MTN General Manager: Regulatory Affairs) explained that MTN carried voice and data over its network as both a content provider and a content delivery service. As a content provider, MTN did not provide adult content through its content portal, ‘MTN Loaded’, but as a content delivery service, MTN could not intercept content that Wireless Application Service Providers (WASPS) delivered over its network. However, MTN required all WASPS to be members of the Wireless Application Service Provider Association (WASPA) and to adhere to the WASPA Code of Conduct.

As the internet was an open network, any accessible Internet Protocol (IP) address was a possible destination for cellular phone users. In the case of the internet, MTN could not avoid the use of its network for adult services, as content providers could change their IP addresses to avoid filtering. If MTN was notified of websites carrying illegal content, it could block access to these sites on its network. However, ‘no amount of technological intervention’ would prevent users from accessing adult content on cellular networks.

Vodacom briefing
Ms Vanessa van Zyl (Vodacom Executive Head: Special Regulation) said that the Electronic Communications Act and the Film and Publications Act provided an excellent legislative framework for regulating adult content on cellular networks. Vodacom favoured ‘co-operative self-regulation’, whereby cellular operators would take steps to introduce access control mechanisms, and ensure that sexually explicit advertisements were not circulated in media accessible to children.

Vodacom supported WASPA, and required WASPS that utilised Vodacom as a service provider to commit to the WASPA Code of Conduct, which came into effect on 1 September 2005 and stipulated that adult content services should be clearly identified to users. Vodacom was committed to implementing sanctions against WASPS that contravened the Code of Conduct.

Vodacom subscribers had access to content services at three access points: the Vodacom portal, over which Vodacom had full control; third-party content providers (WASPS), over which Vodacom had only contractual control; and the internet, over which Vodacom had no control. Vodacom was implementing Adult Content Management Access Controls across the three access points, including an age verification mechanism. It was also applying a content rating matrix developed by Vodafone to adult content, and was subjecting content rated 1.3 to 1.7 to access controls and a warning screen. Users were able to ‘opt out’ of adult content at any time.

Cell C briefing
Mr Mafahle Mareletse (Cell C Managing Director) noted that the convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications services allowed users of cellular networks to access complementary content services from WASPS. Users were therefore able to procure content from WASPS that were not licensed. However, the Electronic Communications Act provided a framework for the self-regulation of WASPS.

Cell C supported the WASPA Code of Conduct which provided the tools for parents to exercise control over content accessed by child cellular network users. Cell C would only enter into contracts with WASPS that were members of WASPA, and had initiated negotiations with WASPS on access control to adult content services by means of a ‘single short code range’.

Discussion
The Chairperson was dissatisfied with the contention of cellular service providers that they were unable to regulate adult content at certain access points. He asked why television advertisements for adult content via SMS were allowed when cellular networks had no means of restricting the access of children to such content. What was the financial benefit for Vodacom from SMS requests for adult content?

Mr Shameel Joosub (Vodacom Managing Director) clarified that the television advertisements for adult content via SMS were run by independent content providers that used Vodacom as a bearer service. Vodacom’s revenue as a bearer service was 50 cents per SMS plus an administration fee. The cellular industry in SA was expanding rapidly and had ‘developed a momentum of its own’. Cellular networks were only beginning to develop mechanisms for the regulation of adult content.

Ms Kalyan expressed dissatisfaction with the presentations by MTN, Vodacom, and Cell C, as the service providers did not indicate practical steps that could be taken to regulate the availability of adult content on cellular networks. Mr Sibande emphasised that the cellular operators had not demonstrated a commitment to minimising the problem of adult content. Mr Mareletse responded that the cellular industry in SA was relatively young (11 years), and although network operators were committed to regulating the availability of adult content, controls had not yet been implemented.

The Chairperson observed that advertisements for cellphone users to download adult content via SMS did not appear in other African countries, and he asked what services Vodacom and MTN offered in other African Union (AU) states. Mr Joosub explained that, in other African countries, voice was the main application offered by cellular operators, and data services were not yet available, as they were in SA. Cellular operators had put the internet ‘in the hands of ordinary South Africans’, and with this service came the necessity of regulation.

The Chairperson noted that the adoption of the Code of Good Practice by the cellular operators co-incided with the date on which the Committee invited them to make presentations before it. The Committee would discuss the regulation of adult content on cellular networks with the Deputy Minister and the FPB, and would then invite the operators back to the Committee in 2006 to ensure that they were adhering to government policies.

The Committee had a responsibility to mitigate the moral decay of society that appeared in the link between pornography and the perpetrators of abuse against women and children. Cellular operators should contract a limited number of content providers, and should follow the example of the SABC in the regulation of adult content.

Hustler magazine briefing
Mr Joe Theron (Managing Director: Hustler magazine) recalled that when Hustler magazine was launched in SA in 1993 it was censored. When the new government passed the Film and Publications act in 1996, Hustler was able to launch two versions of its magazine in SA, a ‘hard’ version that was sold in adult stores, and a ‘softer’ version that was sold in general stores.

If the pornography industry had not been legalised in 1996, pornographic material would be distributed illegally. The legislation on adult shops included restrictions on the areas in which they could be located, and these restrictions should be enforced. The relation between rape and the distribution of pornography in SA should be determined through legitimate research as authorised surveys had not yet been carried out. The government should finance such research.

Discussion
Mr Sibande urged that research into the relation between the abuse of women and children and the distribution of pornography in SA should consider the unique material conditions in Africa compared with other continents. The illegal sale of pornographic material could be stopped by the vigilance of the suppliers of such material. The Chairperson enquired what happened to unsold copies of Hustler magazine. Mr Theron answered that it was the responsibility of the police to arrest those who sold pornography illegally. The copies of Hustler magazine unsold in SA were sent to America.

The Chairperson stated that the Committee was shown two versions of Hustler magazine. The version sold in SA was ‘hard pornography’, while the version sold in the rest of the world was ‘softer’. Mr Theron insisted that this was incorrect: the version of Hustler sold internationally was ‘hard pornography’, while the SA version was ‘softer’.

The Chairperson said that the Committee required ‘compliance and understanding’ from Hustler magazine, and it should clarify why two versions of the magazine were sold in SA. Mr Skhosana suggested that Hustler should operate within the regulations of the FPB, and the Chairperson added that the FPB should be given the capacity to police commercial pornography suppliers so that businesses that did not comply with it could be closed down.

The Chairperson concluded that the Committee would propose a motion in Parliament for a national debate on pornography, as the liberation struggle had not been won for government to allow the moral degeneration of its citizens. The Committee hoped that cellular service providers would become involved in public education programmes on the regulation of adult content on cellular networks.

The meeting was adjourned.

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