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« Friedman of speech | Main | Rising Antisemitism in South Africa? »

December 21, 2008



the thing about that infamous Sharon as a Nazi cartoon, let's not forget its context, it was drawn in the aftermath of the "massacre" in Jenin that never happened, the massacre that wasn't, as it were, back in 2002. so Shapiro drew a cartoon of Sharon as a Nazi based on a war crime that never happened - that was nothing but a big lie, a lie as notorious as the Mohammed al Dura fakery, a lie that symbolises as much as anything the new anti-Semitism in the world. Has Zapiro heard of the term projection?

Not once has he drawn say a Hamas terrorist as a Nazi, he never drew that terrorist Arafat as a Nazi - in fact if one were to rely on Zapiro cartoons one wouldn't know there was such a thing as Palestinian terrorism at all, no such thing as Hamas or Islamic Jihad or Hezbollah for that matter.

Zapiro ought to move to Iran or Gaza, he could get a job as the cartoonist at the Teheran Times.


Zapiro did not call Zuma a rapist for the charge of rape that Zuma was found not guilty. He accuses Zuma of raping the justice system. Just as, in a subsequent cartoon, he accused Mbeki of the same thing. Both Zuma and Mbeki are guilty of raping the justice system and there is nothing wrong with portraying either of them as such.


Erin, that is his excuse. But come on, Steve put it well - his past makes that cartoon that much more powerful


"But whether Zapiro realize it or not he does have power. As an international award winning cartoonist, the visual comments he makes with his poison pen do have consequences. Ignoring this makes him a highly irresponsible journalist."

When I suggested a few weeks back that the press has power and should be limited to responsible and accurate reporting I was all but labelled Stalin on this blog.

Now Mike, either you are contradicting yourself or you believe that the only means we should have to ensure jounalists are responsible is to ask them nicely. The other option is the standard left wing, liberal option - you can say I misunderstand you, launch into a diatribe on the righteousness of absolute press freedom, cite some examples of the evils of censorship and then call me some names before not answering my question.


Mike you write:

that should not give people like Zapiro the right to possibly defame and denigrate the dignity of people with impunity

You (and Brett) seem to want more restrictive laws to limit press freedoms. I couldn't disagree more. One of the steps towards a dictatorship is the eroding of press freedoms and free speech laws. I find it very disturbing that this is Zuma's reaction. Specifically though, what laws are you suggesting and who would you give this authority, the authority to decided what you can or cannot read?

For what the courts will say, Constitutionally Speaking has an interesting opinion on it all, specifically:

First, since the SCA and the Constitutional Court developed the common law of defamation to bring it in line with the spirit and purport of the Bill of Rights, it is not so easy to win a defamation case - especially if one is a public figure like Mr Zuma.


Brett, do I really call you nasty names? I am sorry if I have offended you. I have never argued for absolute freedom of expression. I have always acknowledged that it has limits. Our constitution is structured in that very way. One has the right to free speech but cannot engage in hate speech. Where we disagree, I think, is where the line is. I don’t support censorship as a general rule. But do believe that media that engage in hate speech as determined by our courts should face some form of censure.
Benjamin, I share your concerns about the erosion of free speech in South Africa. I thought I made that clear in the post. But there are legal limits to free speech. Defamation is one of them. It will be very interesting to see how the courts find. I personally think there is reason to believe Zapiro has crossed the line. But my opinion is not the one that counts on this matter.
I read the constitutionally speaking post and don’t disagree. The main argument is that suing Zaripo is not practical for Zuma. That is probably true. But Zuma’s reputation is not my concern. I am no Zuma fan.


Mike, you seem to think that media censorship only revolves around hate speech.
What about National security and human life?

The famous example that I have used in that past is the media black out prior to the D-Day invasion in 1944. Imagine the loss of life and potential allied disaster if the media would have reported some aspects of the invasion.
What about the media’s negative role during the second Lebanon war?
Forget the staged pictures or blatant lies, what about Israeli press constantly broadcasting soldiers’ funerals and the effect this had on National moral. How about the live reporting from the location of Hezbollah rocket attacks, while this did seem informative, it also confirmed to Hezbollah exactly where they had scored a hit.

Many Israeli Ethiopian immigrants still believe that as a direct result of the media’s sensational reporting the initial airlift that brought Ethiopians to Israel was halted and only resumed some years later.

Where does one draw the line?
You seem to infer that any limit on the press (other that Hate speech) is a threat on democracy.


Mike my problems is your use of the word dignity. Public figures, like Zuma, have recourse to fight defamations with hour long interviews on 702. That is the reason it would (and should) be difficult for him to win such a case. The minute you start talking about dignity you open the door for anything and shut down the ability to write critically. Case in point:

The U.N. General Assembly Thursday approved a "Defamation of Religion" resolution

It is very telling that:

The resolution has been pushed at the United Nations by major Islamic nations such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan over the past nine years.

If you allow a government or powerful figures the ability to shut down comments based on ideas such as dignity, respect or security (real or not), you might as well shut down your press. One only has to look at the police state that is Egypt, a country that wishes us to believe that it is just trying to promote dignity and respect.


Lawrence not only has ZAPIRO not ever refered to terrorism in his cartoons, he drew one comparing mass murderer Arafat to Moses and after arch-killer Yassin was blotted out he did one showing Yassin as a dove of peace being devoured by Sharon.

Everyone knows how much I dislike the ANC, but I dont give a dammn about the freedom of speech of someone who supports terror against my people and demonizes them like a cartoonist from DEr Stermer.
ZAPIRO's cartoons have been used on Syrian government websites.
Nail ZAPIRO, JZ, make sure his hideous cartoons nerver defile our sights again.
I hope JZ puts ZAPIRO's poisonous pen out of business forever.


Shaun, I was talking in the context of South African— in particular Zuma’s case against Zapiro. I do know that the South African constitution does allow for the suspension of certain rights including free speech during a state of emergency. But the conditions and time limits under which one can be declared are onerous. But I would guess that in a war situation like Lebanon a state of emergency could be declared. I do not know what the international legal obligations on press access are during an armed conflict. But these would need to be complied with. Most very framed law or constitution in democratic countries understand the difficulties that the right to freedom of speech may pose during war time. Of course in limiting rights we need to be very cautious. Where it is absolutely necessary ie to save a life, we should take care to ensure that it is limited as little as possible.
Benjamin, I strongly oppose that resolution. I think it goes too far. I strongly support a free market of ideas. I don’t think countries or religions or ideas should be protected from criticism, provided that criticism is not hate speech and the criticized has a fair forum to respond. I thought Zuma made a good point about the media that when the issue corrections its only a few lines on page 5 while the main story is normally splashed across the front page. I don’t know if that is fair access. But people like Zuma may have other avenues such as interviews on 702 to get their point across.

The point about defamation is that it relates to false accusations and knowingly false accusations, not criticism. Its something far more malicious in nature. Zuma was acquitted of rape. Implying he is a rapist is a knowingly false accusation. Similarly if someone were to state something blatantly false about Islam with malicious intent, I do think the current legal remedies in place would cover this.

Zuma and his lawyers are claiming that Zapiro has attacked his dignity. Dignity is a right afford by the constitution. I am not sure what the limits of its definition are. But that is something for the courts to decide. I would oppose too broad a definition. But I do think it depends on the circumstances. Balancing rights is never easy. As I said above when it is required it should be done with caution.


You are right Mike, this is ultimately a matter for the courts to decide. It is the balance between separate rights guaranteed in the constitution and bill of rights.

Ultimately I take an extreme position, I would only have the courts limit free expression when it threatened the destruction of the open society.

In the case of defamation if an individual feels that his/her life or livelihood has been damaged by an unfair portrayal in the media they can sue. All power to them.



I was not clear. I do not support any censorship of the press other than in areas where the reporting will do tangible damage. What I'm saying is that where the press will merely offend someone, even if it can be defined as hate speech, there shouild be no mechanism for preventing its publication. The libel courts can decide afterwards what was and wasn't appropriate. In the Zuma case, future cases similar to Zapiro's cartoon (blatant libel) will be prevented if the courts nail him and his newspaper with massive damages.

However, where a piece of information will result in damage or potential damge - be its troop movements in war, casualty numbers in war (which kill morale), intellegence sources, economic information tha tmay lead to a market crash etc etc - I believe there should be a legal mechanism preventing reporter and publishers from making this knowledge public. For example, should a reporter tomorrow come across the details of potential Israeli strike on Iran, even though publication of the plan could result in many lives been lost or even the country being destroyed - the only thing we have to prevent said reporter publishing is the good will and ethics of the reporter and publisher (neither of which are abundant in todays press corp). This is ridiculous. All such instances should be censored and those breaking the law should be charged with treason.

Now granted this leaves the system open to abuse - dictators deciding that personal attacks on them constitute a threat to national security. But potential for a abuse is no reason to not implement a plan, it is a reason to find solutions to prevent abuse. Besides, my system has potential for abuse, the current system is abused, and people are dying because of it.

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