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29 April 2017 09:36 (South Africa)
Business

Analysis: Multichoice, porn peddlers with a pedigree

  • Branko Brkic
    branko3048 a ray
    Branko Brkic

    Brkic is the founder and editor of The Daily Maverick.

    He has edited magazines on business and politics, technology, and wildlife. He has also published fiction and non-fiction books, most of them in Serbian. Though he has never pretended to be a reporter, his wide knowledge of politics (especially in America), combined with his experiences in a disintegrating Yugoslavia, gives him an unusual outlook on events in South Africa.

    Despite the vowel-poor surname, he tells anyone who asks that he hails from Hyde Park, Johannesburg, having spent most of his adult life in South Africa.

    Recent columns:

  • Business
multichoice porn

South Africa's only pay-TV service is "conducting research" into the feasibility of a porn channel on DStv. Really? Could the untold story be that they're preparing to take on a competitor, and that they're trotting out a strategy learned while peddling porn in Greece? A former insider bares all.

In 2001 I worked for Multichoice in Greece, a subsidiary company of Naspers known as Netmed Hellas. I was the executive producer of M-Web in the country, a job I hated almost as much as I hated living in Athens – I was theoretically "in charge" of a newsroom of 40 or so sports journalists, most of whom wrote about soccer and none of whom wrote in English, and since I don't read Greek or care about European football, the arrangement was doomed from the start.

I tell you this not as a plea for sympathy (I was earning way more than I was worth), but to point out that for the majority of my time at Netmed Hellas, I wasn't focused on my job. Instead of working, I'd hang out in the offices of the few friends I'd made. One of these was a guy I'll call Johan (Naspers has a long and successful history of appointing South African managers to its overseas operations, the mistake they made with me notwithstanding), who was responsible for content acquisition across a range of Mutlichoice brands. Johan looked after the film channels, Greece's equivalent of M-Net, MM1 and MM2. He also looked after the porn channel.

One day, as I was passing his office on my way to the canteen, Johan gestured urgently for me to join him. He closed the door after I entered, and sat back down with a perplexed grin. He had a story to tell me, he said. It involved the group CEO, a small bespectacled woman who had the caring aura and brusque efficiency of a school teacher. In a rare fit of pique, she had summoned Johan up to the top floor.

The CEO's concern, said Johan, was that contrary to policy, Multichoice had aired "anal penetration" scenes the previous evening. It was an oversight, my friend told me, something that had crept into the system undetected .

If there's a moral to this story, a reason for repeating it, it's this: such things tend to happen when a media company branches out into the adult entertainment business; the decision to go into porn is a decision that's bound to cause awkwardness for everyone concerned.

How, for example, should the boss have dealt with the infringement? As group CEO and ultimate enforcer of the "no anal" rule, her duty was to upbraid Johan. But if she did so she ran the risk that she would a) embarrass both him and herself in the process, and b) create a rift in an otherwise perfect working relationship.

Unsurprisingly, both 'a' and 'b' came to pass. And you can be sure that 'a' and 'b' will come to pass if and when Multichoice adds adult content to its DStv service in South Africa – as will 'c', 'd', 'e' and 'f', the long list of more important external concerns.

Already, civil rights groups are protesting loudly at the news that the company is "conducting research" into the feasibility of a porn channel on its local bouquet. As Sapa reported: "If the idea of a pornographic channel on DStv is entertained and allowed it will be like pouring fuel on the fire of sexual abuse and exploitation, the Christian Action Network (CAN) said on Thursday [February 25th]."

The Department of Home Affairs doesn't like the idea either, and for similar reasons. “We don’t want a society where pornography is readily available to children,” the department’s spokesperson, Bayanda Mzoneli, told the Sowetan. Same goes for the Teddy Bear Clinic, an organisation called "Stop" (Standing Together to Oppose Porn), and an Islamic Services Centre in Durban. Almost everyone against the idea cites the high statistics in South Africa of domestic violence, rape, and child abuse.

Multichoice, for its part, is taking cover behind the assertion that no decisions have yet been made , and that, were they to go ahead, it would be because this is what viewers want. "In the last few months, Multichoice has been inundated with requests to provide adult content on DStv," the group's general manager of corporate affairs, Jackie Rakitla, told Independent Online.

Given Multichoice's experience in Greece, my guess is that these words are even more empty than they sound. What Multichoice understand much better than viewer requests is that a serious pay-TV competitor, On Digital Media, is about to enter its South African space. It was an open secret in the Netmed Hellas offices that two things were keeping Greek pay-TV competitors at bay in 2001: the rights the group had to broadcast top division local football, and the 24-hour hardcore porn channel. If you weren't working in one of those two areas, you weren't really doing much good for the company.

In South Africa, Multichoice already have the rights to the most important sports fixtures. So here's a second open secret I remember from my time in the Netmed Hellas offices - it was more prudent to foist porn, a guaranteed money-spinner, on a foreign society than it was to foist it on the conservative society back home.

Circumstances, it appears, may have changed.

By Kevin Bloom

Read more: SAPA on News24, IOL, Sowetan

  • Branko Brkic
    branko3048 a ray
    Branko Brkic

    Brkic is the founder and editor of The Daily Maverick.

    He has edited magazines on business and politics, technology, and wildlife. He has also published fiction and non-fiction books, most of them in Serbian. Though he has never pretended to be a reporter, his wide knowledge of politics (especially in America), combined with his experiences in a disintegrating Yugoslavia, gives him an unusual outlook on events in South Africa.

    Despite the vowel-poor surname, he tells anyone who asks that he hails from Hyde Park, Johannesburg, having spent most of his adult life in South Africa.

    Recent columns:

  • Business

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