In the month that brought us public hearings on an apartheid-inspired Protection of Information Bill, the resurrection of a government media tribunal to regulate the media and Jeff Radebe’s disclosure that the Criminal Procedure Act is being amended to force journalists to disclose their sources, Pick ’n Pay decided to censor the media.
After a couple of pesky complaints about “nudity” and bad language in the Afrikaans newspapers, Sondag and Die Son, Pick ’n Pay decided to no longer carry these papers on its shelves. This was despite the fact that the Sunday weekly is sold in supermarkets in sealed plastic bags.
Speaking to the Saturday Star, Ingo Capraro, Sondag’s editor, said the decision was disturbing: “The constitution enshrines freedom of choice, freedom of association and media freedom. Pick ’n Pay’s decision to decide on behalf of its customer what they are allowed to read flies directly in the face of freedom of choice.”Now I don’t read Die Son or Sondag, but that’s irrelevant. What’s at stake here is media freedom and frankly Pick ’n Pay couldn’t have chosen a worse time to mess with a freedom that is enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa.
Adding insult to injury, Pick ’n Pay appears to have taken the decision unilaterally, without any consultations with media or civic or watchdog organisations. The company acted as judge, jury and executioner without even notifying the public or explaining to consumers what complaints had been made and why it took the decision to evict Die Son and Sondag from its stores.
Perhaps if Kevin Korb, Pick ’n Pay’s merchandise director, who appears to be responsible for this decision, had any media savvy he’d realise that the media in South Africa is in a high-noon showdown. That this would be a very bad time for Pick ’n Pay to start playing media censor.
Local media are currently contending with a raft of bills and proposals and amendments to laws that would seek to silence and subjugate them. To plug holes that leak information in the public interest, that would impose brutal jail sentences on journalists for serving an open democracy and that would obfuscate the acts of government and be a death blow to transparency.
The current media restrictions mooted by government and members of the ANC ruling party are in direct conflict with the Constitution, more particularly section 32 of it that reads: “Everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state; and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.”
Aside from being a unilateral media censor, Pick ’n Pay’s other great offence is to take decisions that would treat its consumers as if they were children or not intelligent enough to make their own media decisions. Let’s get real for a moment Pick ’n Pay, Die Son and Sondag are hardly peddling pornography.
Then there’s the matter that these papers understand what people want to read which is what has made the newspapers so immensely popular. Despite this Pick ’n Pay choices to deny people access to these newspapers because of some self-righteous moral minority?
Pick ’n Pay, you have made your choice, now I will make a few of my own.
I choose to no longer shop at your stores or to support or participate in any of the businesses to which your brand is allied or involved with, because you are no friend of the media. More so because you are hypocritical in riding roughshod over the consumers’ rights to freedom of choice under the pretext of being a consumer champion.
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Mandy de Waal is a writer who reports on technology, corruption, science, the media and whatever else she finds interesting. She loves small stories and human narratives, and dislikes persistent evangelists, bad poetry and the insane logic that currently passes for political rhetoric. Back in journalism after spending time in the corridors of corporate greed, de Waal has written for Mail & Guardian, Noseweek, City Press, Rapport, MoneyWeb, Brandchannel (New York) and a number of other good titles. She now writes for The Daily Maverick because it’s the smart thing to do.
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