Three spears for free expression

2012-10-13 13:06

Ahead of World Media Freedom Day on October 18, there is good news out of South Africa.

The first is that The Spear has been declassified.

The very own appeals tribunal of the Film and Publications Board this week overturned its decision to classify Brett Murray’s satirical painting as 16N on the grounds of nudity.

The image, painted in the style of a Soviet-era Lenin, gained infamy for featuring President Jacob Zuma with his penis exposed.

It was published by City Press and then taken down.

It was exhibited by the Goodman Gallery and then defaced by an angry missionary and a taxi driver.

Both City Press and the gallery faced a campaign of intimidation by the governing ANC, which called for a boycott of your newspaper.

The initial classification of the painting signalled an era of invasive censorship. We welcome the declassification.

The tribunal found that the work had artistic merit and that it dealt provocatively with political issues by drawing on the relationship between sex and power.

It was not lawful for the board’s classification committee to classify it on the basis that the work impugned the president’s dignity.

The ambit of the Film and Publications Board was also limited by a recent Constitutional Court judgment that defined its powers far more narrowly than its mandarins had thought was their remit.

If we handed out awards for free expression, City Press would give one to the Right2Know campaign.

Its activists have done a laudable job of protesting against the conservative and ill-considered Protection of State Information Bill.

This bill, which attempts to draw a dragnet over a substantial amount of public information under the guise of protecting state information, attempts to criminalise both whistle-blowing and investigative journalism.

If it had already been enacted, it would have threatened both the people who blew the whistle on the spending on Nkandla and your paper, which published the details. But thanks to the campaign, the bill has not been passed and Right2Know is likely to fight it all the way to the Constitutional Court.

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