Reality show cleared of inciting domestic violence and hatred

Decision against Moja Love by BCCSA commissioner overturned

By Dave Chambers

22 June 2023

A Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) tribunal agreed with DStv channel Moja Love that an episode in the fifth season of Isencane Lengane did not contravene the broadcasting code of conduct.

A reality show that was censured and fined R50,000 for inciting gender-based violence (GBV) and hatred has been cleared on appeal.

A Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) tribunal agreed with DStv channel Moja Love that an episode in the fifth season of Isencane Lengane did not contravene the broadcasting code of conduct.

In April, a BCCSA commissioner who considered more than 50 complaints that the episode glorified, promoted and perpetuated GBV said the channel knowingly broadcast an incident of GBV and neglected to “proactively rectify the violent content”.

But the three-person tribunal considering the appeal said Moja Love did nothing wrong. “Judging the broadcast in context and in accordance with the code of conduct, we cannot find it to extend beyond the contemporary South African standard of tolerance or [Moja Love’s] right to freedom of expression,” it said.

Read the original ruling here and read the appeal ruling here

Isencane Lengane follows the lives of high school sweethearts Siyacela and Thando Dlamuka, from Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal, who married in their mid-teens.

During the 22 January episode, Thando, 18, asked her 19-year-old husband why he hit her the previous day. After a diary interview in which Siyacela admitted the assault and attempted to justify it, he was shown taking his wife’s cellphone and smashing it on the floor.

Moja Love argued that although viewers’ complaints referred to a specific episode, “the storyline is continuous and therefore the channel did broadcast corrective measures in the following episode where the couple attend a counselling session with a social worker”.

It said the production crew also stepped in and restrained Siyacela, and called the police. “Thando was advised to open a criminal case of assault against Siyacela, but she chose not to exercise this right and instead the channel moved Thando to a different location away from Siyacela.”

A “special broadcast” was aired a week later, featuring “a conversational dialogue between men [including Siyacela] regarding GBV, its causes and suggestions on how men can collaborate in an effort to end this epidemic”.

None of this was enough for commissioner Boitumelo Tlhakung, who said Siyacela’s comments in diary interviews that “his wife knows that he does not want her to have any friends … give the impression that he thinks violence against women can be justified”.

She added: “The fact that this impression is not immediately corrected or criticised by the broadcaster is problematic. Viewers are left with the impression that this is how people like themselves address problems in everyday life.

“The fact that it is a reality programme and, most importantly, that the violence was not immediately denounced and identified as criminal conduct, constitute a contravention of all the provisions of Clause 10.2 and 10.3 of the broadcasting code of conduct.” These clauses refer to content that incites imminent violence and advocate hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion.

The appeal tribunal said Tlhakung got it wrong. “There was no advocating or inciting of imminent violence,” it said. “[The episode] was not intended to provoke gender discrimination but to expand on an issue that was already of considerable public interest.

“The only intention was to create more societal awareness, to bring to light, to stimulate, provoke debate and create introspection regarding the adverse effects of GBV, in the hope that this might lead to positive behavioural changes.

“[Moja Love] circumspectly dealt with this sensitive matter. No scenes of actual violence against the wife were portrayed … [and] … it would have been unrealistic to edit out all references to the abuse that seriously affected the relationship.”

Similarly, there was no advocacy of hatred based on gender. “The members of the tribunal are of the opinion that a reasonable viewer will not be incited to behave in the same way and will rather become more aware of the physical and emotional effects of GBV.”

The tribunal said one of the media’s vital functions is to contribute to the formation of public opinion by providing information about public, political, social and economic activities. In this respect, reality shows were “an excellent example of the media being a mirror to society”.

While dozens of viewers were “shocked and dismayed” by what they saw on Isencane Lengane, “what is considered offensive by one person is not necessarily offensive to another, and the Constitutional Court has held that freedom of expression includes the right to air offensive material within certain limits”.

The tribunal consisted of chair Brian Makeketa, Richard Chemaly and Linda Venter.