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August 19 2012


Published on 18 Aug 2012 by RussiaToday

Julian Assange's case has raised numerous concerns among journalists and activists who fear being prosecuted for doing their job. RT interviews author and journalist Naomi Wolf, who says the US government is especially tough on those exposing official wrongdoing.

Reposted bywikileaks wikileaks

May 28 2012

Jacob Zuma penis painting removed by South African newspaper

Controversial image showing genitals of South African president taken off City Press website after escalating row with ANC

A South African newspaper has removed a controversial image of Jacob Zuma from its website, after coming under pressure from the African National Congress (ANC), explaining: "The atmosphere is like a tinderbox."

The weekly City Press was subjected to a call by the governing ANC for a reader and advertiser boycott after refusing to remove a photo of a painting that depicts the South African president with exposed genitals.

The boycott appeared to backfire on Sunday, with the paper selling out at many newsagents, but its editor took the picture down on Monday "out of care and fear".

The satirical painting, The Spear, has provoked one of South Africa's most polarising political debates in recent years, with the ANC and others construing it as reopening the wounds of racial apartheid, while others have defended artist Brett Murray's right to free expression.

"That we are now a symbol of a nation's anger and rage is never the role of media in society," Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press, wrote on Monday.

"We take down the image in the spirit of peacemaking – it is an olive branch. But the debate must not end here and we should all turn this into a learning moment, in the interest of all our freedoms.

"Of course, the image is coming down from fear too. I'd be silly not to admit that. The atmosphere is like a tinderbox: City Press copies went up in flames on Saturday; I don't want any more newspapers burnt in anger."

One of her reporters had been banned from covering a trade union meeting, Haffajee added, while vendors of the paper were most at risk.

"For any editor to respond to a threat to take down an article of journalism without putting up a fight is an unprincipled thing to do, so we've fought as much as we could. It doesn't serve City Press or South Africa to dig in our heels and put our fingers in our ears."

The ANC welcomed the move but still demanded an apology. Jackson Mthembu, the party's national spokesperson, said: "We appreciate what has been done. We appreciate that at least Ferial is saying she can now understand the pain.

"All that we are saying to her, is can she apologise for the pain. Please apologise to the people of South Africa. This pain has been so deep seated."

He added: "We will then call off the boycott."

Earlier Haffajee did issue an apology in an open letter to Zuma's daughter Duduzile. "I understand that what is a work of satire to me is a portrait of pain to you," it read. "I understand the impact on your little brothers and sisters, who may face teasing at school.

"Playground cruelty leaves deep scars. And if they and your dad saw the work in our pages and it caused harm, then I apologise from the bottom of my heart."

City Press's U-turn was condemned by South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, with a warning: "We must never give in to bullies."

Mmusi Maimane, its national spokesperson, said: "Whatever one may think of the painting, no political figure – no matter how powerful or influential – has the right to tell any newspaper what it is allowed to publish or not; similarly no one should be able to tell an artist what he or she is allowed to paint."

He added: "It is unfortunate that president Zuma and the ANC chose to intimidate the City Press into taking down the painting from its website, and it is equally unfortunate that the City Press has caved in to this pressure after a valiant attempt to fight for what is right.

"This kind of self-censorship will stop our democracy in its tracks. We will never forget how the apartheid government bullied its critics in the media, many of them into submission. Those who stood firm against the bullies carried the torch of media freedom in those dark days. We must keep that flame alive."

City Press's initial stance had an unlikely defender in Julius Malema, the expelled president of the ANC's youth wing. In a column for the paper on Sunday, Malema said he intended to buy two copies, explaining: "Banning newspapers simply because we disagree with them, and boycotting them on the basis of believing that our conception of truth is absolute, poses a real threat to our democracy."

The intervention of Malema, who has fallen out bitterly with Zuma, fuelled theories that The Spear has been a gift for Zuma's base to manipulate public anger and mobilise support before he faces ANC factions in an election contest in December.

The ANC and its allies are organising a protest march on Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery on Tuesday/today, where the painting hung until it was vandalised by two protesters and removed. Although it is now widely visible on the web, including on a page of Wikipedia, the ANC will continue its legal action to have the painting and images of it banned. A court case has been postponed indefinitely. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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South African newspaper defies ANC boycott call

South Africa's ruling party, the ANC, has called for a boycott of the City Press newspaper after it published a picture depicting President Jacob Zuma in a Leninist pose with exposed genitalia.

The ANC has demanded that the Sunday paper remove the image - a reproduction of a painting by Brett Murray entitled "The spear of the nation" - from its website.

It has called on advertisers not to buy space in the paper and on people not to read it until the publishers comply with its demand.

In calling for the boycott, the ANC described the paper as "a paragon of immorality" which "does not belong to our shared democratic dispensation and values". It was therefore "anti-ANC, the president, our democracy and the majority of South Africans."

The paper published a copy of Murray's painting column 10 days ago (18 May) to accompany a review of the art exhibition in which it was displayed.

But the City Press editor, Ferial Haffajee, responded with a column, "The spear of the nation stays up," in which she defended her decision to publish on the grounds of both artistic freedom and press freedom. She wrote:

"Our constitution explicitly protects artistic expression as a subset of free expression...

I've learnt that the commitment to clauses like free expression (be it in art or journalism) is never going to be tested by still lifes of bowls of flowers or by home decor magazines.

It is always going to be tested by art that pushes boundaries and journalism that upsets holy cows, which is why our clever founders enshrined the right in our constitution."

Haffajee is an executive board member of the International Press Institute (IPI), which has condemned the boycott.

Its executive director, Alison Bethel McKenzie, described the call for a boycott as "an abuse of power and a form of harassment." She argued that it is "part of a disturbing trend, which has resulted in an erosion of press freedom in one of Africa's most respected democracies."

City Press, which is the third best-selling newspaper in South Africa with a reputed 2.5m readers, was also summoned before the country's film and publication board as censors sought to decide whether to classify Murray's work as pornography.

According to the latest news story on the affair, the ANC appears to be divided over the boycott call. Several senior members have opposed the party's official line.

NB: I am carrying a copy of the picture as an act of solidarity with City Press. The image is also displayed on the WAN-IFRA website and on many other sites.

"Spear of the nation" (Umkhonto we Sizwe) was the title chosen by the ANC's armed wing during its struggle to overcome apartheid.

Sources: City Press (1), (2) & (3)/WAN-IFRA/IPI/The Guardian © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 29 2011


March 08 2010

Viewer or voyeur?

Do you look away from images of real-life horror, or look closer? A series of shocking photographs from Somalia asks disturbing questions about the ethics of bearing witness

"To catch a death actually happening and embalm it for all time is something only cameras can do," writes Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others, "and pictures taken out in the field of the moment of (or just before) death are among the most celebrated and often reproduced of war photographs."

Sontag goes on to describe the context in which Eddie Adams took what was arguably the most shocking image of the Vietnam war: the moment in which a South Vietnamese police officer executes a Vietcong suspect by shooting him point-blank in the head. She points out that the picture was both authentic and staged – "by General Loan, who had led the prisoner, hands tied behind his back, out to the street where journalists had gathered. He would not have carried out the summary execution there had they not been available to witness it". Wearily, Sontag concludes that "one can gaze at these faces for a long time and not come to the end of the mystery, and the indecency, of such co-authorship".

I was reminded of that final quotation when, a few weeks ago, I navigated the winner's gallery of the World Press Photo of the Year website. There, amidst the many dramatic images of conflict, death and destruction, was a series by an Associated Press photographer, Farah Abdl Warsameh, entitled Stoned to Death, Somalia, 13 December. The four images are shocking in a way that even the most graphic war reportage seldom is any more. The first shows the victim being buried up to his neck in earth. The second shows a group of men, their faces concealed by headscarves, raining rocks down on his head. The third shows his bloodied torso being dragged out of the soil. The last shows the men hurling large rocks at his prone and lifeless body to finish off their gruesome ritual. There are no captions; we are left to guess the context.

One's immediate instinct on coming upon the photographs is to recoil in horror, which is what almost everyone I showed them to did. A colleague described them as "a kind of pornography of suffering". (The Sunday Times ran the series last week in their Spectrum section devoted to the World Press awards. Many readers were outraged and appalled.)

Last week, in a blogpost for Foto8 magazine, the veteran picture editor, Colin Jacobson, wrote that "the rather disgusting pictures … raised some interesting ethical matters", which is one – somewhat understated – way of putting it. More problematically, Jacobson said that "obviously there was collaboration between the photographer and those carrying out this gruesome death sentence". Perhaps. But what kind of collaboration? Unlike the shooting of the Vietcong suspect, the dreadful execution of the Somalian man would seemingly have gone ahead at that time had the photographer not been present. (Other images from the series, not included in the World Press selection, show an audience of villagers who had gathered to witness the execution.) On that level, the photographer did not collaborate with the killers, though he almost certainly gained permission from someone to shoot the stoning. He also shot every stage of the killing in all its protracted and torturous barbarity. What it takes to do that, and at what personal cost, only he can say.

Images as extreme as these beg so many questions about the morality of reportage. Did the photographer, one wonders, have any communication with the victim in the time leading up to the event? Would our reaction to the photographs be different if we knew that the condemned man granted the photographer permission to bear witness to his dreadful death? Would it be different if we knew that the photographer risked his own life to travel though strife-torn Somalia to bear witness, which, as one of the respondents to Jacobson's blog points out, was probably the case. Does such extremity diminish us or enlighten us? Or simply shock us into a kind of impassioned helplessness?

Part of the complex power of these photographs comes from what Sontag calls the "provocation" inherent in all images of real suffering. The first of many questions they ask is: "Can you look at this?" Perhaps Sontag comes closest to articulating the moral dilemma at the heart of extreme images of suffering when she writes: "There is shame as well as shock in looking at the close-up of a real horror. Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering of this extreme order are those who could do something to alleviate it … or those who could learn from it. The rest of us are voyeurs, whether or not we mean to be."

Now see this

Nigeria is the sixth largest producer of oil in the world and one of the main suppliers to America. Subtitled 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta, Ed Kashi's exhibition, Curse of the Black Gold, chronicles the long-term human and environmental cost of oil exploitation in west Africa. You can see this monumental work of reportage at London's Host Gallery. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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