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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

As calls grow for removal of Guptas' ANN7 TV channel that DStv subscribers say they don't want to pay for, MultiChoice says it has no editorial control over channels' content.


As calls grow for the removal of the TV channel ANN7 (DStv 405) from DStv by thousands of subscribers saying they don't want to be forced to pay for the "Gupta news" channel, MultiChoice in an open letter says that the pay-TV operator doesn't have editorial control over what the Gupta channel shows.

While an an online petition that was started in April  has now grown to over 12 500 signatures and comments asking for ANN7 to be removed from MultiChoice's satellite pay-TV platform DStv - and keeps growing - several other voices have publicly called for MultiChoice to remove ANN7.

A growing number of South Africans - from ordinary DStv subscribers to high-profile names - feels that ANN7 from Infinity Media Networks is sowing divisiveness in South African society and fueling racial tension through slanted commentary, so-called "expert" panelists and its biased coverage of political events.

In a published open letter - that interestingly has some mistakes - Nolo Letele, MultiChoice South Africa's chairperson, makes the claim that MultiChoice "do not have editorial control over the content third-party providers place on their channels, nor do we endorse any particular points of view".

Nolo Letele references some of the TV news channels carried on MultiChoice, making the mistake of saying "CCTV" that changed to CGTN at the end of last year already, "CNN" that's actually CNN International (CNN is America's domestic feed) and even "Russia Today" - a channel that officially changed its name to RT ages ago.

Let wrong DStv channel names in a corporate open letter that should have been checked better before being sent to the media not be used to cast aspersions.

But lets consider this:

MultiChoice's constantly performs content analyses and performance evaluations on basically all of the channels carried on DStv. Under-performing and non-performing third-party channels on DStv are continually told when their content isn't working and what should be changed.

This can be considered a form of editorial control.

The past year and a half several channels on MultiChoice's DStv from E! Entertainment to TLC Entertainment - even recently kids channels ranging from Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network to Disney XD - have seen content across Africa banned and removed in ramped up censorship in countries ranging from Nigeria to Kenya that has a direct impact on all Africans - even South African DStv subscribers.

Something like this doesn't happen in a vacuum, with complaints from broadcasting regulators that go to MultiChoice in these various African countries.

MultiChoice then quickly contacts third-party channels and tell them to remove the offending content, ranging from I Am Cait to The Loud House.

Last month MultiChoice quickly told African countries when more content were removed that "in tandem with our internal quality control measures, we also ensure all third-party suppliers are adequately briefed on country specific regulatory requirements and provisions".

This can be considered a form of editorial control.

Also consider these examples from the controversial MultiChoice SABC contract for the supply of the SABC News (DStv 404) and SABC Encore (DStv 156) channels by the SABC to DStv.

Keep in mind that MultiChoice's contract with ANN7 very likely carries a similar section:

When a channel under-performs, the contract states that MultiChoice and the SABC: "shall meet and agree on how best to improve the viewership."

"The SABC shall be given the opportunity to implement the changes it deems fit to improve the viewership of of SABC News during a period of 30 days from the date of the meeting referred to above."

Elsewhere the contract states that the SABC "shall ensure that each of the channels retains its current quality and character".

How do you possibly improve viewership if you don't make changes to the content? And doesn't an agreement to adhere to a specific "character" at its very core signify editorial changes?

This can be considered a form of editorial control.

And there's this: When MultiChoice extended the reach of SABC News from just South Africa to the rest of Africa, the SABC dropped all other language TV news bulletins from SABC News and made the channel just English.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said it was done because DStv subscribers in countries outside South Africa won't understand South Africa's languages. Keep in mind that SABC News is supposed to be for South African viewers - one of the SABC's envisioned DTT channels to serve the South African public.

Yet the (bigger and expanded) platform - in this case MultiChoice's DStv - literally had a direct influence on the editorial side of a TV news channel carried on it, in this case the 10 languages dropped from it.

This can be considered a form of editorial control.

In the letter Nolo Letele says that MultiChoice has "a legally binding agreement with ANN7, which we are legally obliged to abide by."

"We are a responsible corporate citizen and where legal grounds arise that require us to terminate a content agreement, we will certainly do so."

"Customers who do not agree with the editorial content of any channel have the ability - quite independently of us - to reach out to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA. I hope this information is useful."

Interestingly Nolo Letele doesn't - and can't - say that customers who do not agree with the editorial content of any channel have the ability to not pay for it.

Despite complaining with the BCCSA over ANN7, DStv subscribers will still have to pay for ANN7 while enriching the Guptas as evidence of state capture and shocking Pell Pottinger PR practices continue to emerge.

Nolo Letele's open letter feels as if MultiChoice is doing what in psychology is termed "learned helplessness".

Imagine a shop carries a product or service, a hundred thousand customers complain, but the shop says "sorry there is nothing we can do about it". It's absurd.

More than a hundreds thousand DStv subscribers already voiced their strong opposition to ANN7 but MultiChoice seems to say it doesn't have the ability or willingness to act and that there's nothing the pay-TV operator can do about it.

In Nolo Letele's words, the ability - in fact the responsibility - is shifted away from MultiChoice and to the DStv subscriber - to the paying customer - to go and complain to a broadcasting complaints body.

And that is disappointing.


Below is the open letter from MultiChoice's Nolo Letele, published in full:


Deon Wiggett takes MultiChoice to task for carrying the ANN7 news channel on its satellite platform (Dethroning DStv from our lounges might slay ANN7, July 21).

He wants us to consider summarily removing the channel from the platform. Perhaps it will be useful to consider the following.

DStv is a platform that relays many local and international news channels representing a wide spectrum of views (SABC News, eNCA, ANN7, Parliamentary Service, Business Day TV, CNN, Sky News, Russia Today, CCTV, Al Jazeera and others).

We do not have editorial control over the content third-party providers place on their channels, nor do we endorse any particular points of view.

At present we have a legally binding agreement with ANN7, which we are legally obliged to abide by.

We are a responsible corporate citizen and where legal grounds arise that require us to terminate a content agreement, we will certainly do so.

Customers who do not agree with the editorial content of any channel have the ability - quite independently of us - to reach out to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa. I hope this information is useful.

Nolo Letele Executive chairman, MultiChoice SA