In response to Chemory Gunko

2017-01-13 12:27

Many readers will undoubtedly have blinked in disbelief on reading the piece ‘Simple ways to dramatically change the world’, posted by News24 Voices blogger Chemory Gunko on 10 January. One simply does not expect to read paeans of praise for Adolf Hitler combined with outright denials or bald justifications for Nazi atrocities in any credible media forum, yet this is just what was served up in Gunko’s creepily bizarre offering.

According to Ms Gunko, there is apparently “no concrete evidence of the Holocaust having had taking place – except in our movies”. While going on to intimate that Hitler took certain measures against German Jewry, she presents these as having been necessitated by the wickedness of the Jews themselves. “Hitler attacked the Jewish banking system, as well as the depravity of the Jewish community living in Germany”, she writes, “Berlin at the time was said to be a cesspool of sin, and a birthplace of pornography, erotica and open homosexuality”.

For good measure, Gunko goes on to justify the Nazi invasion of Poland, the event that sparked off World War II, asserting that it was aimed at addressing legitimate German grievances. As for Hitler himself, she is fulsome in her admiration (“an incredible politician who facilitated phenomenal economic change, delivered on his promises and had the respect and loyalty of all his people”).

Once it was brought to its attention, News24 acted swiftly to remove the offending article. As was explained to this writer, the authors on News24 Voices ‘self-publish’, and it sometimes happens that items of this nature “slip through” before being picked up by an editor.

Freedom of expression has its limitations. While allowing for a diversity of viewpoints, respectable mainstream media outlets can reasonably be expected to draw the line when it comes to material openly denigrating specific ethnic, religious or other such groups, makes blatantly false and offensive historical claims and promotes racist ideologies. This is because allowing for the propagation of such views under their banner inevitably lends them a degree of credibility. When it comes to an individual’s private communications platforms – Facebook, Twitter and the like – a great deal more flexibility can be allowed. One would not have been overly bothered, for example, had Chemory Gunko merely propagated her notions via the social media.

Even in the social media sphere, however, there are red lines. The question that is very much gripping South Africans at the moment is the extent to which individuals should be expected to refrain from publishing material that can reasonably be considered to be grossly offensive and/or inflammatory on their private online sites. Since the furore that erupted over the now notorious Penny Sparrow ‘monkey’ comments on Facebook a year ago, a passionate and often acrimonious debate has raged over what is and what is not acceptable in public discourse and what role, if any, government should play in resolving the problem. No amount of prohibitory legislation will be effective, however, without a sincere commitment by South Africans across the board to foster a culture of sensitivity, respect and empathy towards their fellow citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed or other differences.

David Saks

Associate Director, SA Jewish Board of Deputies

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