The Film and Publication Board conceded on Tuesday it does not have the legal jurisdiction to classify any content published or broadcast by media outlets.
The board's chief operations officer Mmapula Fisha told a hearing about the classification of artist Brett Murray's painting “The Spear” in Pretoria that she understood and respected the self-regulation of the print media.
However, she said not having jurisdiction over the City Press newspaper did not mean the board was going “to fold hands over the issue”.
City Press published a photo of the painting, which depicts President Jacob Zuma with genitals exposed, on its website. Following a public outcry it removed the image.
Fisha said her organisation had sound working relations with the Press Ombudsman and would forward the complaints about City Press “for the sake of the complainants”.
“We have always known that we don’t have the authority over newspapers. But we don’t fold our hands. We have to protect children of this country,” said Fisha.
She said the board’s classification board would go ahead and deliberate about the classification of the painting.
“We can only take further steps on the portrait after our classification committee has decided on it. We had the legal obligation to hear presentations from City Press,” said Fisha.
The board said the five classifiers dispatched to work on the portrait would come to a conclusion in the next week.
Steve Budlender, for City Press, said the board needed to give further clarity on the complaints about the image on its website.
The board said it had not thrown out the complaints, but would take “further steps” if the classification committee deemed it necessary to classify the portrait.
Earlier, the Goodman Gallery's lawyer said there was no point in the FPB classifying “The Spear” since it had been disfigured and removed.
Advocate Matthew Welz, for the gallery, said the complaints were submitted before the image was removed. It was part of Murray's “Hail to the Thief II” exhibition.
“Now the image no longer exists. We do not have the portrait in the gallery and you also heard it was removed from the City Press website.”
Welz said the original portrait of Zuma, which sparked protests, “had genitals showing”.
“That image does not exist anymore.”
He urged FPB panelists to dismiss the complaints brought against the image.
Panellists contended the defaced image could be restored or published again online. Welz told the board the image was bought by a foreign national who did not intend restoring it.
City Press contended earlier the board was overstepping its legal mandate as it had no jurisdiction to classify content published or broadcast by media outlets.
The paper argued that bona fide newspapers were regulated by the Press Ombudsman and the SA Press Code. – Sapa