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As the controversy over The Spear at the Goodman Gallery in Rosebank ignited about a month ago, Yoliswa Makhasi bore the brunt of it from her office in Centurion.
The Film and Publications Board chief executive was forced to recuse herself from the hearing where the gallery and the City Press appeared to argue against the board’s intent to classify the painting by artist Brett Murray.
Makhasi had tweeted a day before the hearing: “It’s interesting how media is sensitive to being gagged and yet so quick to want to gag others”.
This led to accusations of bias. But she insisted as the chief executive that she had nothing to do with classifying the painting.
“We have had a bit of drama before. I remember we classified (the movie) District 9 after complaints about prejudice of Nigerians in the film,” she explained.
“You have that drama sometimes when a distributor is not happy with higher age rating… but not to the extent of The Spear… Perhaps we were naïve to think that everybody would understand what our role is and where we fit in.”
Suddenly the board and Makhasi were thrust into the spotlight after classifying the controversial painting.
The painting, which depicted President Jacob Zuma in a Lenin pose with his genitals exposed was, rated 16N (nudity).
Makhasi says some in the media were opportunistic.
“(They are distorting) the mandate of the board and (confusing) the public about what exactly our work is.
“With democracy the board’s mandate changed to focus on classification instead of censorship,” she said.
“With the process of classifying The Spear, I picked up so much paranoia driven by very clear sections of our population (but) I don’t want to go into the politics of that.”
“We were following a very clear process that is legislated and we can show proof that this process is supported by law and we have a right to operate in the space,” she added.
“We are not trying to favour anybody or scare anyone. We cannot have a situation where certain sections of the South African (population) want us to implement our mandate according to (their interests).”
But the former National Youth Commission head said she had almost forgotten about public pressure until The Spear saga. “If you know the NYC you would know that we were always making headlines for one reason or another no matter how hard we tried not to.
“What we basically do on the board is to regulate the creation, possession and distribution of film, games and certain publications.”
In the past year alone, the board has classified more than 7 000 films based on content.
“My understanding of censorship is that if you are given a movie to classify, you identify all the parts you don’t like and tell the producer to delete them,” she said.
“But with classification we look at the movie and all the classifiable elements such as language, violence, nudity, sex and prejudice. So we look at the movie with a view to understand what is the intensity of violence, sex, nudity and prejudice and we will advise.”
The biggest challenge facing the board, Makhasi said, was child pornography and distribution of content that has nuances of child porn.
She said the media keeps pushing the envelope by taking daring steps with putting out information that may contain some elements that are quite violent and sexual.
The board’s new strategy is to appoint monitors to look at content that is on television because there has been an increased number of complaints in relation to TV content.
“Our legislation does not give us any authority over television but we are working on a discussion paper calling for a single classification system.”
She said the board’s proposal will ensure that the guidelines that are used for home entertainment and cinema are applied to television.