By Moffet Mofokeng
Sunday newspapers will not be allowed to publish a controversial cartoon depicting prophet Mohammad after a Muslim pressure group was granted a court interdict.
The SA National Editors' Forum said on Saturday that South African media houses were on Friday night barred from publishing the cartoon.
The Jamiat-ul Ulama of Transvaal, which sought an interdict against Johncom Media, Independent Newspapers and the Newspaper Printers, said the cartoon hurt Muslims deeply.
The organisation was granted the interdict by Johannesburg High Court Judge Mohamed Jajbhay at 10.30pm on Friday.
Judge Jajbhay ruled that the right to dignity outweighed the right to freedom of expression in this matter, Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya said.
"We regard this as a serious blow to the freedom of the press and have every intention of challenging the ruling when the matter returns to court," he said.
Makhanya said the Sunday Times, one of the Johncom papers that received a letter from the group asking if it would publish the cartoon, had not decided on its action at the time.
He told Sapa the Sunday Times refused to make an undertaking to the Jamiat-ul Ulama on the principle that outsiders would not dictate what could be published.
"We believe that if we had undertaken not to publish, we would have invited similar demands and threats from anybody who felt offended by the stories we publish.
"No credible newspaper can be held to ransom by the beliefs of a section of a population.
"We are obliged to reflect the world we live in - not just a part of it - for the benefit of all our readers. We must uphold the right to publish without fear or favour," Makhanya said.
Sanef chairperson Joe Thloloe described the interdict as alarming. The forum believed the interdict amounted to pre-publication censorship.
The interdict "limits freedom of expression in that the decision on whether to publish or not to publish has been taken away from editors and placed on the shoulders of the court".
"The editors of the gagged publications are aware of the law and the limitations the constitution has placed on freedom of expression and would respect those.
"It is not for the courts to assume that the law is going to be broken and make the decision for editors," he said. - Sapa