/ 20 September 2010

Missing the point

Jonah Fisher, I now know how you must have felt when you got kicked out of that now-legendary press conference. Well, sort of, anyway. I wasn’t summarily ejected out of any press conference, nor was I called a “bloody agent” or told not to come with my “white tendency”.

I was, however, accused of launching an “unlettered and unpalatable attack” on the Cosatu spokesperson, Patrick Craven, in a statement by Cosatu-affiliate the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), which was sent to various news houses on Friday afternoon.

Why, you may ask? Because of an article I’d written that appeared in Friday’s Mail & Guardian, entitled “Will the real Patrick Craven please stand up?” It concerned the fake Facebook profile of Craven, yes, but also discussed the phenomenon of fake Facebook profiles and satirical Twitter accounts of other politicians — local and international. It was straight reporting, no opinion or comment involved.

To be sure I understood correctly what Popcru was accusing me of, I looked up some definitions: unlettered: adj. poorly educated or unable to read and write; unpalatable: adj. difficult to accept.

The first I most certainly am not (evidenced by, among other things, the fact that I wrote the article) and the second — well, that one could work. Perhaps Popcru found it difficult to understand that someone could a) create a fake profile for their clearly dearly beloved spokesperson or b) write an article about it in the broader context of satirical profiles in general.

It is unclear whom it is accusing of “undermining the working class movement’s tenacious struggles”, me or the creator of the fake profile. But really? I’m surprised they didn’t throw in a “counter-revolutionary” or even a “bloody agent” or two.

The statement goes on to say that the media appeals tribunal should “deal with media houses that may attempt to misuse their space for unsound and/or harmful writings”. It gives the example which I used in my piece, quoting from the fake Craven’s profile, to prove the satirical point of it all: “Cosatu notes with regret the damage we have caused to the economy and the future of South Africa’s youth by engaging in the strike action.” Popcru declared this an “unsound inference”.

I’d like to suggest Popcru takes that same dictionary and looks up “satire”. And while it’s at it, “internet”. And oh, just for the heck of it, flip through a copy of the Constitution and examine section 16 on freedom of speech. Does it want the media appeals tribunal to “deal” with me for writing about the phenomenon? Or does it want the tribunal to oversee Facebook and Twitter activity? Good luck with that: it’s working out really well for China, and North Korea, and Iran.

On one point I do concur with the statement: “We should be concentrating on genuine issues.” Quite. So let’s leave light-hearted news articles alone and let the internet take care of itself, shall we?

Read the full text of Popcru’s statement