By Pinky Khoabane
LET’s get the lies out of the way so that we can address the real dangers of monopolies, monopoly power, censorship and the powerlessness of the ruling ANC government against monopolies, that are playing-out in the decision by Multichoice not to renew its contract with ANN7 when it expires in August 2018.
The satellite television provider announced yesterday that ANN7 would be removed from DSTV’s platform following a public outcry by those who despise the Guptas and by extension, the television channel that they once owned.
Multichoice has given no clear reasons for its decision except for a great deal of waffle about “mistakes” that were made, “due diligence” that wasn’t done and “in light of the ongoing controversies it won’t be appropriate to renew ANN7’s current contract when it ends in August”. What these controversies are is not clear. It’s not clear whether they relate to allegations of state capture by the Guptas or allegations that Multichoice paid ANN7 R25m and the SABC over R100m to influence government’s digital migration policy in favour of Multichoice and to maintain its monopoly power in the pay-tv sector.
Firstly, we need to place in context the calls to shut down ANN7. They don’t emanate from last year’s allegations of corruption against the Guptas. The battle started when news broke that people of a darker skin shade and who were aligned to the ANC, were entering the media industry.
We have to understand what the media industry is – it is a battleground for shaping people’s views on life. The media is a tool through which the powerful decide what and how we must think about the world. In protecting their turf, media employ a combination of tactics, including straightforward propaganda and scare mongering.
The narrative that we should be afraid of the Gupta family, which owned The New Age and ANN7, and the Sekunjalo consortium, led by Dr Iqbal Survé, which bought the Independent Group, started before these two groups opened doors to the public. The plethora of allegations of corruption against Gupta-linked companies have not helped dispel the narrative that the Guptas are dangerous people who need to be shut down.
The decision by Multichoice comes in the week where on one hand, we heard shocking allegations of the Gupta’s influence on government tenders and cabinet reshuffles and on the other, how Steinhoff manipulated their financial reports resulting in, among others, the government’s pension fund losing R20 billion in one month. I’m yet to hear calls of a shut-down of Steinhoff and the companies linked to its former Chairman Christo Wiese or the many Rupert-linked companies that have been exposed for anti-competitive behaviour by the Competition Commission. There’s no outrage because commercial media, which serve the interests of capitalists, presents this crime as “collusion” which is “private” and unlike that committed by the public sector, should really go unpunished as it doesn’t affect citizens. What they omit to tell citizens is how price fixing – on bread and everything else – has a direct bearing on their purse strings and their livelihoods.
It has been reported that there are several complaints lodged against the Guptas and that the criminal justice system is moving swiftly to deal with the allegations of corruption levelled against them. Steinhoff also announced it had reported its former CEO Markus Jooste to the Hawks. These developments are welcomed. If there are crimes committed let these people face the music.
Some sections of the public including some journalists called for the removal of ANN7 from the DSTV platform long before information of the amount paid by Multichoice to ANN7 surfaced. The allegations of corruption by the Guptas, apparently contained in the so-called GuptaLeaks, laid the perfect foundation for the public’s demand to have ANN7 removed from the DSTV bouquet and threats to cancel subscriptions if this wasn’t done.
An anchor on Radio702 justified Multichoice’s decision on the grounds that ANN7 was established purely for propaganda purposes by those who wanted to loot the state. This anchor would like us to believe it was never about the diversity of voices, pluralism or the maintenance of a healthy democracy.
There’s also talk that ANN7 benefitted from the proceeds of crime as justification for the shut down.
Contrast this call to the deafening silence to Naspers’ historical links to apartheid, from which it did not only benefit politically but profited financially too. It did not only benefit from advertising revenue from the Nationalist Party government but it also benefitted from printing the apartheid government’s text books. Ironically, the same applies today – with the help of brothers of some of the comrades in cabinet – a printing company linked to Naspers is raking-in millions in printing text books for democratic SA.
In the 1980’s Naspers was awarded the rights to start SA’s first pay tv MNET which would launch it into the trillion rand business that it is today. Its wealth stems from what its former chairman Ton Voslo described as “complicity in a morally indefensible political regime”.
But these facts accompanied by allegations of Multichoice’s influence on government policy so as to entrench its dominance in the industry seemingly don’t matter in the context of state capture, corruption and crime. Multichoice made the mistake of not heeding early, the calls to shut down ANN7. We would not know about the million rand payments and allegations of corruption now levelled against it.
Glaring, is the hypocrisy of those who claim to protect the Bill of Rights, which includes the right to freedom of speech, media freedom and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms, which means the rights of those who despise ANN7 are equal to the rights of those who love the television channel.
There are many of these protectors of our rights, starting with the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and other NGOs which have mounted massive campaigns in the past years in the protection of the Constitution. These advocates of democracy are however, highly selective; choosing their campaigns carefully – for or against – depending on the political agenda of those for whom they will march for or against. SANEF has released a rather meek response to this issue having turned a blind eye in the past, to threats to journalists that the media industry doesn’t like.
The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) it must be said, were quick to defend ANN7’s right to air at the initial stages of the call to have the news channel removed from the bouquet of offerings by DSTV, but I did not see their response to the latest decision by Multichoice.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
DSTV subscribers have a choice to whatever channels they wish and they can exercise that choice and not watch ANN7. Similarly, those who want to watch ANN7 should be allowed the freedom to do so.
Citizens have the right to hear all sides of every issue and to make their own judgments about those issues without interference or limitations from anyone.
Citizens have a right to speak, publish, read and view what they wish, worship (or not worship) as they wish, associate with whomever they choose, and demonstrate against what they perceive to be wrong doing. This they must do within the law – South Africans can speak and publish whatever they wish for as long as it does not constitute hate speech and those demonstrations are peaceful and do not cause harm to anyone.
Censorship has no place in a democracy
When Multichoice decides that we cannot watch ANN7 because a section of its subscribers object to it, we are treading on very shaky ground.
The American Library Association describes censorship thus: “Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons — individuals, groups, or government officials — find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, ‘Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it!’ Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else”.
This case has once again exposed the ANC ruling party’s failure to address and enforce that media in this country is transformed and diversified to include the broader spectrum of our society and diverse voices. The ruling party has failed to address the issue of monopolies – having dilly-dallied since the advent of democracy, the ANC of today even struggles to accept that white monopoly exists. Fortunately, in the face of these denials, monopoly power always rears its head in the form of cases such as the Multichoice decision to shut down ANN7 and the many incidents of anti-competitive behaviour by monopolies as exposed by the Competition Commission.
Here’s the complete statement by MultiChoice https://www.multichoice.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/31/multichoice-statement-31january2018.pdf?platform=hootsuite