Kuli Roberts’ column in Sunday World has been discontinued with immediate effect, according to a statement issued by Avusa Media this week.
In the statement, Avusa and Sunday World “acknowledge the outcry over the Kuli Roberts column that appeared in the February 27 edition of Sunday World”.
It goes on to say that the the column, headlined Jou Ma se Kinders, “made derogatory generalisations about Coloured people, which were in clear violation of the South African Press Code and Avusa Media’s internal codes. The column was also not in keeping with Avusa’s commitment to building a non-racial and non-sexist society.”
In the meantime, Kuli Roberts, via her Twitter feed (@kuliroberts), apologised. “I am truly sorry to all thos upset by my last column. No harm was intended, Once again it was never my plan to upset and I pray forgiveness (sic).”
The column sparked outrage and also many questions as to procedures within news organisations regarding exactly who should take responsibility for publishing the material.
Sunday World editor Wally Mbhele said “As editor I take full responsibility for the offending column appearing in my newspaper. While I recognise the right of columnists to express their opinions without fear or favour, these should not amount to prejudice. This column showed clear prejudice against a section of South African society. For this I unreservedly apologise to South African society and to Sunday World readers.”
The question is, then, why was it published?
Just as in the David Bullard case, the editor, with whom the buck is supposed to stop, allowed the material through the newspaper’s various systems that are supposed to be a check against seriously unsuitable material being printed.
Callers to 5fm’s Gareth Cliff on Tuesday morning asked the same question: why did the editor allow it to be published and why isn’t the editor being punished too?
Avusa Media’s editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya said in the statement that the company had already begun an internal inquiry into the matter.
“As a leading media company and a responsible corporate citizen Avusa Media will not allow any of its titles to disseminate prejudicial commentary that re-enforces divisions and entrenches racial stereotypes. We are totally committed to the values and principles enshrined in the Constitution,” he said.
Media commentator and Daily Maverick columnist Jacques Roussouw (@JacquesR), disagrees that the column should have been pulled.
“Even the most odious views should be aired, so that we know who holds them, and so that we can respond to them. The former because journalists and columnists can shape opinion, and it’s useful to know what their ideological or other presumptions are. The second because we can’t know how bad a problem is if it’s underground – but we can demonstrate how bad the reasoning for it is if exposed.
“Being angry at racists or sexists might make us feel good, but it does nothing to decrease their number. What a paper could do, for example, when a columnist submits this sort of thing, is to publish it alongside a strong counterargument. That way, the paper is on the side of right, and the journalist looks silly. At the same time, the paper is supporting free expression,” he said.