Sunday Times defends racist Facebook photo story

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Following criticism from last week’s story about a “racist Facebook photo” the Sunday Times has published a series of articles vigorously defending its earlier story.

The abhorrent photo, which was revealed to be three-years old and staged, was the topic of heated discussion across various social networks last week. The photo was dramatically splashed across the country’s largest weekly newspaper under the headline “Wanted: Facebook racist”.

This week the Sunday Times published an editorial defending the story saying “The twits have tweeted, the dogs have barked and the caravan has moved on… Such images, contrary to the view expressed by the twittering classes, do not sell newspapers… They are published out of duty, in the knowledge that they do not chime nicely with the South African illusions that we are all living in a nonracial paradise.”

The paper also quoted various “experts” that appear to back the publication of the photo and original story.

The paper makes no mention of the fact that in its original story, the journalist was apparently unaware the photo was three years-old, and had been previously covered by Eye Witness News.

The newspaper elaborates on the origin of the photo, saying it was part of a story published in 2008 about a probe by North West University into a racist website in which their students participated.

“Mention was made of the photo but it was never published prominently.”

Police close in on racist ‘hunter’
The paper reports that “a lawyer representing the man in the photo contacted the Hawks in North West province, where he now lives, in order to co-operate with the investigation”.

The man in the picture has been revealed to be an acquaintance of the seemingly lifeless boy in the photo with him. In a rather confusing interview with another of South Africa’s prominent newspapers, the City Press, the boy’s parents reveal the whole ordeal to be a “joke”. The family said no racism was intended and described the white male in the picture as “a cool person”, saying: “He does not hate black people. He likes playing around with the black children and takes them along when he goes around the farm.”

The paper states that “the picture, up until Saturday last week and preceding publication of the Sunday Times story, was posted on Facebook with the user boasting 590 ‘friends’”.

South Africa’s special forces unit, the Hawks, are now searching for the user responsible for uploading the picture on Facebook.

“We are now studying the original docket that was compiled by Knysna police after the photo first surfaced. This will include why no further action was taken and, after this process, we will make a decision on the way forward,” said Hawks spokesman Colonel McIntosh Polela.

According to the Sunday Times, the Justice Ministry’s Tlali Tlali said that the person who posted the picture could face the following criminal charges as well as civil litigation:

  • Section 9 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to equality and prohibits unfair discrimination, while Section 10 guarantees the right to dignity. He said the violation of these rights can be prosecuted as a common law crime of crimen injuria;
  • Section 16(2) of the Constitution excludes propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence, and advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion;
  • Section 10 of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act prohibits hate speech, and;
  • Section 17 of the Riotous Assemblies Act permits the prosecution of a person guilty of actions that could cause public violence.

Experts and government officials have also warned that those who knew the picture had been posted online and failed to report it to police, could also find themselves guilty of the Children’s Act, the Films and Publications Act and the Criminal Justice Act.

Following discussions around the photograph, the National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Menzi Simelane, has also called for “policing of social network websites”.

“It goes without saying that until race legislation is specifically enacted, South Africa will continue to have incidences of crimes committed where racism is a major factor,” said Simelane in the Sunday Times.

Simelane is not alone. The South African Human Rights Commission has also expressed concern over the unregulated nature of social networks.

“We remain concerned about people abusing social networks to propagate messages of hatred. There has been many complaints where people use fictitious names that are difficult to trace and (as a result) we had to close the file,” said Vincent Moaga SAHRC spokesperson.

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