A complaint that a letter to the mayor of Newcastle – published in City Press as part of a debate – was defamatory and racist, has been dismissed by the Press Ombudsman in its entirety.
The complaint, by Kirith Haria, relates to a letter published in the paper’s Voices section in May headlined, City Press Debate – Are we strangers in a strange land?, by Phumlani Mfeka.
Haria complained that the piece was defamatory and racist; that it constituted hate speech; and that City Press had supported the writer’s views by publishing it.
In the letter, Mfeka responded to a report that Newcastle mayor Afzul Rehman had laid a complaint against a traffic official for calling him a “Gupta”. The official reportedly said to Rehman: “You can go back to India and take offence, here in South Africa, this country belongs to us.”
Mfeka, in his letter, says, among other things: “First and foremost, you are an Indian and, contrary to what you believe and what you perhaps have been taught, South Africa is an African country with its land in its totality and proportion rightfully belonging to its indigenous African people.”
Press Ombudsman Johan Retief assessed the arguments presented by Haria and City Press, and found there was no basis to uphold the complaint.
Retief found that City Press was justified in publishing the alleged racist remarks. “Of course it was (justified) if not, what tame role do the media play in our democracy? Obfuscating the reality?
There is nothing in the Press Code that prohibits a publication from publishing somebody else’s remarks, even if they are racist, especially in a debate such as this one.”
As for the claim that City Presssupported Mfeka’s views, he said: “The mere facts that City Press published Mfeka’s views as part of a debate, and that the editor was clearly quite critical of his comments (and published other opposing points of view), really make a mockery of this part of the complaint.”
Retief added that he didn’t believe that Mfeka’s article was likely to incite violence nor did he believe that it was his intention, “and, more importantly, the same goes for the publication of his views by City Press”.
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