Thursday, August 11, 2005

The (other) N***** who caused all the trouble

Financial Mail editor Barney Mthombothi says the coverline of the August 7 edition was just a bit of fun (see left). "It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek," he says, "and provocative, but never to offend." But offend, he did. The phone rang off the hook, he says in his latest "Editor's Note". The mailbox was flooded with letters. "Some of the callers were apoplectic with anger."

Mbthombothi must be relieved that Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs ruled on 27 May 2005 that South Africans have a constitutional right to laugh. (Case CCT 42/07 was about the squabble between Laugh It Off Inc and SAB, who didn't think the 'Black Labour, White Guilt' T-shirt was a laughing matter at all. For more background see: http://www.laughitoff.co.za/legal/legal.htm ) .

Paragraph 107 of Sachs' judgement is particularly relevant:

...The Constitution cannot oblige the dour to laugh. It can, however,
prevent the cheerless from snuffing out the laughter of the blithe spirits
among us.
Indeed, if our society became completely solemn because of the
exercise of state power at the behest of the worthy, not only would all
irrelevant laughter be suppressed, but temperance considerations could end
up placing beer-drinking itself in jeopardy. And I can see no reason in
principle why a joke against the government can be tolerated, but one at the
expense of what used to be called Big Business, cannot
[emphasis added].

So, yes, Mthombothi has a Constitution right to kid around a bit. But did his joke make for good journalism?

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