The Board fully supports the principle of freedom of expression, recognising that this is one of the cornerstones of any democratic society. There comes a time, however, when the boundaries between fair comment and offensive propaganda are crossed. Such was the case with a cartoon by Zapiro that appeared in all the Independent newspapers on 12 March. In essence, this accused Israeli Jews of celebrating their deliverance from persecution whilst simultaneously committing the same acts of oppression against the Palestinians.
Using the contacts we have built up with the local media over the years, the Board was able to ensure that responses to the cartoon appeared in all the papers in which it was originally published. This included the publication of a full opinion piece in The Star and Mercury and numerous letters in the Cape Argus and Pretoria News.
Anti-Semitic remarks made on radio phone-in talk-shows is another issue that the Board frequently has to deal with. Our community is quite rightly outraged when members of the public use these platforms to attack Jews, and racist hate speech is, of course, constitutionally prohibited in this country. However, it is important that people understand that it is not always possible, or even desirable, to call the relevant radio station to account every time this occurs. The real test as to whether a complaint against a radio station is merited is how the presenter in question has dealt with the matter. Presenters are expected to question and even contest obviously controversial statements, and also to allow others to present opposing views.
The Board received numerous complaints about a phone-in programme on Radio 702/Cape Talk on 27 March. We obtained a recording of the show and carefully analysed it, paying particular attention to how the host dealt with anti- Jewish remarks by callers. Our conclusion was that while several callers did indeed make highly offensive comments about Jews, the host in no way endorsed such views, and indeed clearly indicated that he disagreed with them. We also found that discussion on Jewish issues comprised far less of the show than we had been led to believe. There was, in other words, no basis for a complaint to be lodged against the station.
We decided that this was a good opportunity to write to Radio 702 to let them know how certain members of our community had felt about the show and to reinforce their awareness of the need to deal sensitively with topics of this nature. We pointed out that no religious or ethnic group appreciates being defined by a negative stereotype and then having the merits of that stereotype publicly debated. The stereotype in this case was that Jews controlled the wealth of South Africa, thus echoing classic anti-Jewish conspiracy theorising and bringing to mind such unpleasant attributes as miserliness, dishonesty, greed and of being exploitative. It was essential we wrote, that talk show hosts were aware of peoples sensitivities, and, at the very least, questioned and contested statements that are bigoted, racist and are aimed at creating mischief.
The station responded to us, reiterating its commitment to ensuring that its talk show hosts handled all sensitive issues delicately and responsibly.