In May 2021 the ICJ wrote to The MultiChoice Group in South Africa urging it to suspend Emmanuel TV on any of the DSTV platforms for broadcasting televangelist Pastor TB Joshua’s multiple video clips ostensibly depicting violent ‘conversion therapy’ and hate speech against LGBT persons amounting to discrimination and human rights abuses. MultiChoice responded that it has “no editorial control or oversight” over Emmanuel TV as it is a “third-party channel” and therefore MultiChoice cannot investigate the incident further or take any remedial action.
MultiChoice claims on their website to “entertain, inform and empower African communities”. In addition to this, their entertainment platforms are a hub for approximately 14 million people across 50 countries. MultiChoice has a huge reach into African countries and in the homes of millions of people living in Africa. As a result, they have a responsibility to act in a way which does not promote harmful practises.
In response to ICJ’s letter, MultiChoice stated that it does not review the content broadcast on third-party channels such as Emmanuel TV prior to its broadcast. In place of a thorough investigation, the entertainment group said that it contacted Emmanuel TV and the latter stated that the ‘conversion therapy’ clips were not broadcast in April 2021. It is significant to note that Emmanuel TV did not deny that the clips were aired at all. Rather, MultiChoice alleged that it was simply “unable” to independently verify that the clip was broadcasted in April 2021 or at all.
Contrary to the impression given in its letter to the ICJ, MultiChoice is not limited to investigating offensive broadcasts that are aired within a specific time period. Additionally, while the ICJ notes MultiChoice’s assertion that Emmanuel TV is a third-party channel and consequently MultiChoice has no editorial control or oversight over the content of the channel, the ICJ believes that MultiChoice has a duty to not broadcast material that is discriminatory and in contravention of the South African Constitution.
MultiChoice has a responsibility to conduct a serious investigation into this matter and take the necessary remedial action. Consequently, we do not find that Emmanuel TV’s confirmation to MultiChoice, that the clip was not broadcast during April 2021 is sufficient; and MultiChoice’s inability to verify whether this program was broadcast at all, is unsatisfactory.
The UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, under the umbrella of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, has concluded in May 2020, that conversion therapy amounts to torture and ill-treatment and has called for a global ban on such practices.
In light of this, the ICJ is of the view that MultiChoice has a greater responsibility to the African audience to refrain from participating in the broadcast of such harmful practices, and must publicly take a stance against facilitating the airing of such broadcasts. The ICJ believes that MultiChoice’s responsibility as Africa’s “leading entertainment company” is not to pay “lip service” to the values of the South African Constitution, but rather to hold itself to higher thresholds of accountability.
ICJ has consequently urged MultiChoice to:
- Independently investigate this and other discriminatory and potentially unlawful broadcasts by Emmanuel TV and take appropriate remedial measures.
- Undertake to exclude Emmanuel TV as part of MultiChoice’s package to the public, or alternatively, to heavily condition its contract with Emmanuel TV to disallow the broadcast of offensive materials; should the investigation lead to the conclusion that the clip was broadcasted by them.
- Ensure that such offensive materials are not broadcast on any MultiChoice channels, irrespective of their status as third-party channels.
- Offer an apology from Multichoice Group to the LGBT persons, unless MultiChoice is able to demonstrate independently that the clip was not broadcast at all on their platform, neither by Emmanuel TV nor by any other third-party channel.
- Undertake an updating of the MultiChoice Group’s internal policies to bring them in line with human rights standards, the South African Constitution, and local laws on non-discrimination. This includes contractual arrangements with third party channels like Emmanuel TV which may broadcast discriminatory content.
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ Africa Director, Kaajal.Keogh(a)icj.org
Tanveer Jeewa, Legal and Communications Officer, Tanveer.Jeewa(a)icj.orgAdvocacyOpen letters