A South African version of the reality show Love Island has been accused of failing to represent the diversity of the “rainbow nation” by selecting too few black contestants.
The programme was launched on Sunday night, and was immediately widely criticised by local viewers on social media.
Many pointed to publicity photographs released by the producers of Love Island South Africa, a spin-off of the successful if controversial UK show, which they said appeared to show only white contestants. Others complained that only one of the 10 contestants was a black woman. The presenter was also white, some pointed out.
Some viewers called for formal objections to be made to the broadcasting complaints commission.
Of South Africa’s 58 million inhabitants, 80% are described as black African in census statistics, and only 7.9% as white.
A major lottery that had sponsored Love Island SA said on Tuesday it was cancelling its support.
“LottoStar has taken the decision to respectfully withdraw its sponsorship of Love Island SA. We wish the show and its contestants every success,” the company said.
Contestants in the show, who are all single, live in a luxury villa for six weeks where they perform a series of tasks as couples, competing for the chance to win the equivalent of £50,000. New contestants are introduced as the series continues.
The row has exposed continuing tensions in South Africa over representation of different communities within the media, business and sport.
Last month, a TV journalist who asked a black interviewee to put on a mask after allowing a white interviewee to talk unmasked moments later prompted outrage and protests. The broadcaster ENC said the journalist had not been “racially motivated or with malicious intent”.
South Africa was ruled for decades by the white-supremacist apartheid regime, and has made significant progress towards greater tolerance between communities since the coming of democracy in 1994.
“Sex sells and whatnot … [but] what isn’t understandable is why the cast does not include more races in a country that is still grappling with the effects of apartheid,” wrote Helen Herimbi, a columnist in the City Press newspaper.
Thinus Ferreira, a TV critic, described the show as “shockingly embarrassing”.
“Yes the show is aimed at the … channel’s audience … that does skew white and female but that isn’t an excuse,” Ferreira wrote on his blog. “A reality show like Love Island SA is still anchored and done in South Africa and must reflect at least a modicum of ‘reality’ and ‘South Africa’.”
M-Net, which made the programme, did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement given to local media, the company said it prided itself on reflecting diversity and inclusion in all its shows. “Viewers can be assured this will become more apparent in future episodes of Love Island SA. We hope viewers will keep watching to enjoy the new starts of the show who will be arriving over the next few days.”