Freedom comes with responsibility

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Copy of SI congress of clown INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS On Friday ANC supporters protested against "The Congress of Clowns" cartoon outside the Primedia offices in Sandton, Joburg. The cartoon is crass and scrapes the bottom of the barrel of filth, says the writer. Photo: Dumisani Dube

Cartoon is racism disguised as satire, and flies in the face of efforts to build a non-racial society, writes Zizi Kodwa.

 

The EyeWitness News cartoongate was a clear abuse of freedom of expression. It is important, as we celebrate 20 years of freedom, that we all take a moment to pause and think: what is it in our conduct, especially when it comes to the respect for human dignity, that is incongruent with the spirit of the new South Africa?

What emboldens anyone to insult as many as 12 million people and call them “fools” for merely exercising their democratic right to vote for the ANC?

Mind you these are people who for many years were denied this right. They have just exercised such a right for the fifth time since liberation and someone who considers themselves wise believes these people are not clever enough to know how to use this hard-won right.

They are fools for wasting such a precious vote on the ANC. Such a waste is because these millions chose to vote for the ANC and not a chorus of others who pretended to be an alternative.

The balance of the millions who voted for others can easily be considered to have wasted their votes but the ANC has never made such a proposition.

We are consistent in saying that a democracy is enriched by many voices. Such an enrichment can never happen if disagreeing with someone means you must classify them as fools.

If they had voted for the DA as they did in the Western Cape are they fools there?

Or is this insult reserved for the black-led ANC?

It is interesting that this cartoon that is praised as satire, has no single satire reserved for the fact that the Western Cape government has had the well reported “open toilet saga” in their hands recently.

No single DA MP is depicted in this cartoon in spite of the fact that the DA is in government in a province that is without decent toilets for our people.

When one therefore surmises that this so-called satire is racism draped in stolen gowns one should not be blamed.

A few years ago at the 52nd National Congress of the ANC held in Polokwane one of the things that made the ANC take a view of the establishment of a media appeals tribunal was the impunity with which the media can easily cross the line and destroy people’s dignity. An apology is not enough.

What we must face is that the prejudicial slip of EWN is showing.

If there was an attitude of care in reporting as opposed to an attitude of sensational impunity, would a cartoon so callous and so insulting of the majority of voters have passed the editorial muster in a credible news organisation?

Was it a mere mistake or is this something that we have come to accept of the hostility of the likes of EWN towards the ruling party?

In the run-up to the elections we saw some media organisation trying to hide behind the cloak of objectivity and coming out to call on voters not to vote for the ANC.

The Financial Mail was clearer – vote DA. These are the same people who must be expected to criticise the DA government in the Western Cape – subject them to the same investigative scrutiny like all other parties?

How on earth will they do this if they are campaigning to their readers to vote a certain way?

Put differently – if on the eve of an election a major scandal in the ranks of the DA broke out, would they have the courage to say to the very reader they called on to vote DA, “sorry we just found a big scandal, you may want to change your mind?” I doubt it.

And so the danger of media partisanship and prejudice stirs us straight in the face and so we have to ask whether media self regulation is enough to deal with this kind of conduct.

It is interesting that only two media organisations came out of the electoral preference closet. Maybe they must be commended for stopping with the objectivity pretence.

How can EWN be said to be objective with what it has just done?

At the march against Primedia on Friday, I called for introspection because no matter how inconvenient a truth it may be there are some who even within intransigent news organisations may want to do the right thing.

A journalist does not make a newspaper not even an editor like Katy Katopodis is the representation of the entire ethos of a news organisation.

Organisations have a responsibility to root out elements that will engender regression in the project of nation building.

And so we bleed as we see one more example of the breaking of bridges between the fourth estate and the people. This has certainly set us back. What needs to be done is simple.

There must be an understanding of the fact that human rights that so many died for also bring with them human responsibilities.

The rights of anyone, be they satirists or cartoonists, co-exist with other people’s rights to dignity.

The rearing of the ugly head of prejudice, tribalism and racism must never be allowed to hide behind the freedom of expression.

My freedom to express myself must never be at the expense of another.

This reverses the spirit of nation building and spits on the graves of those who shed blood so that we can be free.

One hopes that this cartoongate fiasco is a lesson in the over zealousness of the likes of EWN in finding fault with the ANC government even where praise is due.

On our part we repeat our call for introspection in the manner in which the media exercise their rights. Let’s not forget that we fought for these rights, hence our constitution mentions by name the freedom of the press.

It would be a sad day if such freedom were abused at the expense of our human dignity.

Finally the ANC wishes to underline its unwavering commitment to freedom of expression and it hopes that this incident will start a genuine conversation about the role of the media in building democracy and promoting daily education about what the meaning of our rights-based society truly is.

 

* Kodwa is ANC national spokesman.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Sunday Independent



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