Decision by Showmax (Multichoice) to ban Schuster films creates a dangerous precedent
20 June 2020
The FF Plus finds it extremely alarming that on the very same day that the Gauteng MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi, announced the establishment of a racism-police to spy on teachers and learners, it also came to light that Showmax is secretly busy censoring Leon Schuster's movies by quietly removing them from its services.
It is clear that the thought police are currently operating at full force in South Africa, both in the public and private sectors.
Showmax's decision creates a dangerous precedent which could have many unforeseen consequences for the public, both for Afrikaans-speaking people and Multichoice shareholders. (Showmax, DStv and M-Net are all owned by Multichoice.)
In the first place, Showmax and Multichoice's decision is most probably unconstitutional seeing as in the Laugh it Off Promotions v SAB court case in 2005, Judge Albie Sachs found that parody is permitted in South Africa and falls under the right to freedom of expression.
Apart from the obvious comedy element in Schuster's films, there are also numerous elements of parody that serve as a mirror for our South African society whereby racism is actually undermined in a subliminal way. Thus, Schuster's films are probably protected by the Constitution.
Showmax, and by implication DStv and Multichoice, must explain how they define racism and how it motivated the decision to censor content.
Surely companies, particularly those that are listed on the stock exchange and, thus, belong to the broader public and are licensed by the Independent Communications Authority (ICASA), cannot be allowed to arbitrarily sidestep constitutional precepts to trample underfoot a fundamental right, like the right to freedom of expression.
The second important consequence is that the Afrikaans film heritage of the 20th century could be destroyed. Years ago, M-Net bought the majority of Afrikaans films and as sole owner it was, therefore, able to decide whether or not these films would be broadcasted or licensed to third parties.
If this absurd racism logic is followed and expands the delusion that Afrikaans films cannot be broadcasted for fear of supposed racism, then there will indeed be very few, if any, 20th-century Afrikaans films that DStv or any other broadcaster can broadcast now or in the future.
As a result, the Afrikaans film heritage will be locked up in a corporate prison until the copyright on it eventually expires. And because of the long copyright period on films, an entire generation could pass without being able to watch Afrikaans films, especially those made in the 20th century.
The last consequence could have a substantial effect on DStv's finances. DStv will be forced to scan through its entire film and tv-program library to check of there are possibly other products that could perpetuate the so-called racism syndrome.
It would probably not take too long to realise that the comedies of Trevor Noah, which parody various population groups, must also be banned. The same goes for international products, like South Park and various other sitcoms and comedians who frequently appear on Comedy Central.
Big Hollywood box office hits will also be affected. The famous actor, Robert Downey Junior, for example, plays a black character in the 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder and throughout the film, he is 'guilty' of 'blackface'.
Thus, DStv and Showmax will be forced to remove all the films in which he plays from their playlist due to the stigma attached to him. It includes box office hits like the entire Avengers series.
If any of these expensive, licensed films may no longer be broadcasted, then their value – which amounts to millions of American dollars – will simply have to be written off.
DStv's shareholders will then be justified in questioning whether the company's board of directors are not reckless in their management of the company and it could have serious personal repercussions for these directors in terms of the Companies Act.
Corporative censorship has no place in a free democracy.
(Adv Anton Alberts previously worked as the main legal advisor to M-Net.)
Issued by Anton Alberts, FF Plus national chairperson, 20 June 2020