By Pinky Khoabane
Verashni Pillay, the editor-in-chief of Huffington Post South Africa thought she could publish an article offending white men in a democracy where freedom of speech is protected in the Constitution – and get away with it.
Days after Zapiro had depicted black men rape a black woman and was lauded by free-speech advocates, she too thought it would be fine for a woman calling for the withdrawal of the right of white men to vote in order to level the socio-economic and political playing field. The woman was calling for redress and redistribution of wealth which are enshrined in our Constitution anyway but she was suggesting that we go further and curtail the power these men have.
Pillay was wrong.
She has now been forced to resign following a scathing ruling by the press ombudsman who found the article calling for the voting rights of white men to be stripped to have violated the press code.
In fact the ombudsman found it discriminatory and constituted hate speech. Hate speech? The blog has now been withdrawn and so one comments without the full article but the snippets I’ve read have not convinced me of hate speech.
The ombud’s full ruling is here http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2017/04/22/the-ombuds-full-rulling-against-huffington-post-south-africa_a_22050700/
The article written by one Shelley Garland, “an activist and feminist” asked if it “could be time to deny white men the franchise” due to their toxic influence of white men on the progressive cause. She cited Brexit and Donald Trump as some of the biggest blows to the progressive cause saying white men should be disenfranchised for a period of about 20 – 30 years. As it turned out, Garland was actually a man who wanted to expose Huffington Post South Africa’s lax editorial systems. White men went berserk and got even more excited when Huffington Post was forced to withdraw the blog on the basis that they couldn’t locate the author.
The entire story of how this all played out is very funny. While Huffington Post was bragging on social media about the number of hits their site was getting as a result of this article, a reader was trying to establish the identity of the author and was “interested” in their previous work when the author swiftly shut-down their Twitter account. The Twitteratti’s started being suspicious when they saw the low level of activity of this author. In a world where our existence is measured by the number of tweets and followers you have, the author was forced to retreat. Put it down to the power of social media. In days gone by, the article could have easily stood as a legitimate piece of work by a real person.
Pillay shut down the blog once they too couldn’t verify the author. http://freebeacon.com/culture/huffpo-retracts-blog-calling-white-men-lose-right-vote-after-realizing-author-doesnt-exist/
In debating the issue, many have stuck on the issue of the author being a hoax and the fact that she’s not who she said she was. But does a pseudonym (even one created maliciously as Shelley was) discredit completely the issues she raised? Yes, the writer didn’t mean anything they wrote but there may have been aspects which counted for debate. Even if it was a load of hogwash – surely the Constitution allows for the freedom to air and publish it. I hold no brief for Pillay but she can only be guilty of not checking the identity of the author and the factual inaccuracies which have been cited by the complainants in the matter. The media write inaccurate stories all the time – the ombudsman knows this.
Thankfully the Press Council Executive Director Joe Thloloe is appealing the Retief’s ruling. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2017/04/25/press-council-exec-director-joe-thloloe-appeals-huffington-post_a_22054162/