The truth about porn in South Africa

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) is currently locked in a court battle with the Justice Alliance of SA (Jasa), Cause for Justice, and Doctors for Life over the the decision to grant On Digital Media (ODM) a licence to broadcast three porn pay channels through StarSat.

While Icasa maintains that no laws were broken in approving the porn channels – Playboy TV, Desire TV, and Brazzers (previously Private Spice) – the opposing parties claim ODM misrepresented the channels’ content when it made the licence application.

Jasa lawyer Darryl Cooke told the Western Cape High Court that ODM had assured Icasa the porn channels would show show loving, healthy sex between consenting adults and not promote infidelity and unsafe sex.

Cooke added that the channels, which showed shows such as “Girls Behaving Badly”, “Backdoor Bikini MILFs”, “The Secret Lives of Kept Wives”, and “Young Harlots: Carnal Education”, did not portray the “conventional” sex represented on behalf of ODM to Icasa during the initial application.

Among Cooke’s complaints, was the lack of eye-gazing couples in loving relationships, and “unhealthy” females used in the shows.

While Jasa’s – along with Cause for Justice and Doctors for Life – goals are the subject of debate, if the three parties were truly concerned about ridding South Africa of pornography, is closing down three TV channels going to make much of an impact?

In an effort to answer this question, we looked that the porn viewing habits of South Africans based on available research – here is what we found.

South Africans’ porn viewing habits

World Wide Worx statistics show that, at the end of 2013, there were approximately 13.8 million Internet users in South Africa.

How many of these users watch porn online is a difficult figure to measure, but research has been done to try get an answer:

Consumer research company WhyFive – which conducts surveys that cover, in part, online porn viewing habits of South Africans – provided some insight.

The company’s annual BrandMapp survey looks at “30% of South Africans who are responsible for 86% of consumer spend” in the country.

This totals roughly 9 million individuals living in households which earn more than R10,000 per month, the group said.

A recent survey of 20,233 of the aforementioned population group found that 8% admitted to regularly watching porn.

This translates to approximately 720,000 people from the group who regularly watch pornography.

Potential StarSat porn viewers

When it comes to the TV channels being watched, the research shows that only 2% of the respondents who watched porn had access to, or viewed shows on Top TV (now StarSat) – only 14,400 of the projected 720,000 people.

Adult Entertainment - TV Channels
Adult Entertainment – TV Channels

The company was asked to comment on how many of its subscribers had signed up to its available porn channels – which would give us a base for comparison – but the company declined to provide any figures.

“We don’t release our subscriber numbers into the market,” the group said.

The company also stated that there were only two porn channels being broadcast on StarSat currently, Playboy TV and Brazzers.

However, in February 2014, StarSat’s interim CEO Eddie Mbalo said the company had between 100,000 and 120,000 paying subscribers. This was down from between 130,000 and 150,000 in 2012.

Arguably, this means that, even if all of those customers were subscribed to the porn channels on offer (an extremely optimistic estimation), the number would still be far smaller than the projected figures based on WhyFive’s survey.

Compared to the survey sample, the potential TV porn viewership numbers are dwarfed, representing at absolute maximum 17% of total porn consumption (120,000 of 720,000 people).

If only the current number of regular TV porn viewers were considered (2% or 14,400 people), the impact is almost negligible.

It would seem, based on this, that Jasa and other concerned parties are wasting their time focusing on TV porn.

Blocking porn in SA?

Surely if the opposition groups were concerned about ridding South Africa of pornography, the Internet would be the first point of contact.

Well, they tried that, and it failed.

In 2010, then-director of Jasa, constitutional lawyer John Smyth, was part of a movement that drafted a bill to block Internet porn completely in South Africa.

The bill was drafted as per the request of then-deputy Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba, with the aim of safeguarding children from the “harmful effects of pornography”.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or even a lawyer to deduce that the precedents we already have in the Constitutional Court would lead the court to say the rights of children and dignity must trump the peripheral rights to watch porn,” Smyth said at the time.

The bill ultimately failed to pass.

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The truth about porn in South Africa