Charlie Hebdo

What South Africa’s Press Code would say to a Charlie Hebdo cartoon

Would a Charlie Hebdo cartoon fly in South Africa, or is our Press Code too stringent? We bring you the facts.

Charlie Hebdo

The world is still spinning in the aftermath of the Paris shootings. But what would have happened if Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons had been published here in South Africa?

Currently South African print media is self-regulated. Journalists and cartoonists adhere to – and are guided by – the South African Press Code in terms of journalistic practice and ethics.

The clause on “comment” in the PressCode was updated in 2011 and outlines the following:

“The press shall be entitled to comment upon or criticise any actions or events of public interest provided such comments or criticisms are fairly and honestly made.”

South African cartoonist Jonathon Shapiro told Mail & Guardian that the reference to fair comment is “subjective” and “loaded”.

At the time, Zuma was filing a R5 million lawsuit against Shapiro (better known as Zapiro), Avusa and Mondli Makhanya, former Sunday Times editor, for the “Lady Justice” cartoon. In the cartoon, Zuma is shown loosening his trousers, preparing to rape Lady Justice while Julius Malema, Zwelinzima Vavi, Blade Nzimande and Gwede Mantashe look on saying: “Go for it, boss”.

Zuma dropped the lawsuit in 2012 and agreed to pay half the legal costs.

Another clause in the Press Code on “Dignity and Reputation” states:

“The press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation. The dignity or reputation of an individual should be overridden only by a legitimate public interest.”

Zapiro said the clause was “jarred” and that he wanted to see the Press Code amended.

He considers the Press Code to be “too prescriptive” and “not open to the wild and woolly nature of satire”.

In the event of a lawsuit, cartoonists, like Zapiro, have to demonstrate that their cartoon is “fair” in the “public interest” and “justified” under the circumstances.

The Press Council would then weigh up the cartoonist’s right to freedom of expression against the offence that complainants take to the cartoon.

Deputy press ombudsman Dr Johan Retief told Mail & Guardian that, as stipulated in section 16 of the Constitution, there is plenty of room for robust satire and freedom of expression.

He referred to a Constitutional Court ruling which said that “criticism is protected, even if it is extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it is an honest opinion, without malice, in the public interest and founded on true facts”.

How SA handled their own Mohammad cartoon controversy

In 2010 Mail & Guardian received threatening phone calls in response to a cartoon published depicting Prophet Mohammad. The paper then met with religious leaders to resolve the issue.

Mail & Guardian’s editor Nic Dawes admitted that he underestimated the sense of connection between Muslims in South Africa and the international politics of Islam as well as how intensely South African Muslims hold the ban on the representation of Mohammad.

The meeting concluded with a joint statement in which Mail & Guardian apologised saying that it had “in no way intended to cause injury, or to associated itself with Islamophobia, which it repudiates in the strongest possible terms”. Mail & Guardian has since reviewed its editorial policy on religious matters.