Press Statement: ProJourn supports court ruling on freedom of expression
The Professional Journalists’ Association supports the court ruling, made late last night, that has allowed the Mail & Guardian to publish a cartoon, drawn by Jonathan Shapiro/Zapiro, depicting Mohammed in today’s edition.
The Association supports the ruling on the grounds that it is an important ruling in support of the right of the media to comment on important issues without fear of intimidation.
In Islam it is forbidden to depict Mohammed, in any way, hence the objection to the cartoon, and while ProJourn supports the ruling, the Association notes that issues like these need to be dealt with with tolerance, respect and consideration for our fellow human beings. We are a country in transition, with very disparate communities, we’re still getting to know each other, and people need to be aware and mindful of each other’s differences.
ProJourn recognises that there is a need to balance the requirements of strengthening our democracy through vigorous debate and interrogation of social issues – even in a humorous or tongue-in-cheek fashion – and of strengthening it through the mutual appreciation of our differences and diverse beliefs. While we have constitutional restrictions relating to hate speech that do not exist in some other democracies, these have so far been interpreted in the courts, correctly in our view, in a narrow fashion so as not to unduly limit healthy public debate and engagement.
The balance between rigour and tolerance in the media’s coverage of socially sensitive matters needs to be read through the lens of the intent of the cartoonist, writer, or other media worker. In this case, we believe that fair comment and not insult was Shapiro’s intent so we welcome the court’s decision. However, we recognise that South Africa’s very diverse social landscape does make social commentary difficult, so we urge journalists to professionally apply their minds to these complexities in a way that is unbiased and respects the dignity of people adhering to differing creeds.
We take note of and salute leaders in the Muslim community who, although they do not agree with the judgement, have urged restraint by their community and respect for the law of the country.