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Jou ma se secrecy

07 December 2011, 08:36

Is the freedom of our press worth fighting for? I just signed the online petition asking President Zuma not to sign the Secrecy Bill into law, but I did so with a bad taste in my mouth.


Our media pretends to care about democracy while abusing their freedom in order to sell newspapers, and the powers that be let them get away with it. Not all of them you say? I'm glad you noticed that I was making a generalization which is the essence of a stereotype.


At a time when South Africans are collectively fighting to maintain the freedom of our press, I objected to the Sunday Tribune describing murderer Chane van Heerden as a witch in their front page article titled "Graveyard Monster: In the footsteps of the Welkom witch" dated 27 November 2011. My letter to the editor of the Sunday Tribune, Philani Mgwaba, was neither acknowledged nor published.


"Dear Editor


I object to your use of the words 'In the footsteps of the Welkom witch' on your front page last week. As far as I know convicted murderer Chane van Heerden does not identify as a witch so I can only speculate that you used those words because you thought they would help you sell your paper, without any due care for the consequences thereof.


I do not identify as a witch myself so why do I care? I care because I would like to think that the freedom of our press is something worth fighting for. I care because the perpetuation of the negative witch stereotype in the media contributes to the ongoing violent 'witch hunts' in our country where innocent people including children are killed on a regular basis. I care because this behaviour keeps my country in the Dark Ages, effectively supporting the efforts of Christians to demonise anything that falls outside of their dogma. I care because I value my constitutional right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion without unfair discrimination."


The Press Ombudsman, Joe Thloloe, refused to even consider a complaint about the article by a member of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, citing a previous ruling on a similar complaint. He believes that it is acceptable to equate a murderer with a witch. It would appear that our democracy is theoretical and only applies when it suits the powers that be. Just because someone in a position of authority believes that something is within the law, does not make it right. Apartheid was legal too, remember?


If you blindly accept the negative stereotype of the evil witch and do not believe that Witchcraft is an actual religion, please do some research at websites such as Patheos, Beliefnet and Religious Tolerance. If you can't find anything under Witchcraft, look under the umbrella term of Paganism or Earth-based religion which includes other Pagan paths.


Prior to the Sunday Tribune's article, the murderer was linked with Satanism in the media and was later downgraded to an "occult killer" when, as quoted in the News24 article titled "Occult killer shows no remorse", a social worker testified that she agreed "that Satanism could not have played a role in the murder, but that occult practices might have had an influence". As much of a stretch as it was, perhaps the "occult" label did not have the impact that the media had hoped for (I suspect many readers do not even know what it means), or perhaps the alliterative "Welkom witch" just had a much better ring to it? Chane van Heerden wore a clearly visible crucifix in court and according to the Sunday Tribune article "attended Bible classes regularly". There was more evidence that she was a Christian than a Witch, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story? It's cool, unless you identify yourself as a Witch or are even suspected of being one, or do not swim in the mainstream for that matter.


Why can a murderer not just be a plain murderer? Is the crime really not bad enough on its own to sell a newspaper without dressing it up as something more interesting?


I believe that the misuse of religious labels to sell newspapers abuses the freedom of the press, feeds prejudice that leads to unfair discrimination and violence in our society, supports religious bias and indoctrination, and violates our constitutional rights to freedom of religion without unfair discrimination.


Some of the objections made in the online petition set up by local Pagans asked that Witches not all be painted with the same brush, as there are both "good" and "bad" Witches. Why is it even necessary in this day and age to make this point when it comes to one religious group and not others? People of all religions as well as atheists may or may not subscribe to their subjective interpretation of a moral code, and may or may not adhere to it on any given day.


I know plenty of decent Christians, and plenty that I don't want anything to do with. The same goes for self-identified Witches and other Pagans. (I don't know too many people from other religions, so I will leave it at that.) Wearing a religious label or going to church does not make anyone a decent person. Actions speak volumes. Being kind, considerate, respectful and non-judgemental makes someone a person that I want to be around rather than avoid. Nobody's perfect, but hopefully we acknowledge when we have behaved badly and do our best to make amends.


In all religions there are bigots and bullies. In all religions there are people who hurt others regularly without any sense of remorse. In all religions there are thieves, murderers and rapists.


I want to end off by quoting from a poem by ee cummings because it applies so perfectly to the situation we find ourselves in today. We have allowed sales and money to become more important than ethics. The media does not care whether they sell us news or hate. Do not be surprised when politicians sell us the illusion of democracy when we do not hold them or ourselves accountable.


"a salesman is an it that stinks to please

but whether to please itself or someone else 
makes no more difference than if it sells 
hate condoms education snakeoil vac 
uumcleaners terror strawberries democ 
ra(caveat emptor)cy superfluous hair"

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