DJ Fresh and the cartoon scandal

Endorsing a sexist and violent cartoon, then advocating for the media to be censored in response for being called on it—it was a busy weekend for DJ Fresh.

Fresh’s overwrought reaction on Twitter to a brief column I wrote on Friday was bad enough. Initially I let it wash over me.

Twitter spats are as boring as they are predictable. It involves some sort of insult, perceived or real, and at least two egos that are fragile enough to be easily bruised in the space of 140 characters. Trying to resolve the issue in the same 140 characters is ridiculous and futile.

Fresh’s 11 tweets to my two tells me he doesn’t agree.

The column in question took issue with a cartoon about the performance of international dance DJ Avicii at Johannesburg club H20. First spotted on the club’s Facebook page (and subsequently removed) the cartoon served as a warning to opening DJs to refrain from playing Avicii’s music. Fair enough. But for some horrifying reason, they chose to put out that message using an image of a woman being punched in the face.

I was frankly surprised at DJ Fresh’s reaction to the column. I mentioned him very briefly in the piece and made my respect for him abundantly clear when I did: “What wasn’t so gratifying was popular DJ and normally all-round good guy 5FM’s DJ Fresh endorsing the cartoon with a tweet that linked to it with the comment: “Lol. All the @Avicii tour DJs got this gentle reminder.”

So as someone who has previously enjoyed interviewing DJ Fresh, and lauds his work and views generally, I have to ask: what were you thinking?”

His prolific response on Twitter and in comments below the article showed he was having nothing to do with a professional and calm engagement around the issue. I was repeatedly accused of being sensational, having no motive except being desperate for traffic and more besides. But since he turned down my offer to write his own column in response, I decided to let it go and stop responding. He had now resorted to accusing me of failing to get his response before publishing, confusing a column with a news article.

Then I saw one final comment below the article that I could not let go. At first there was more of the same: The cartoon was only about DJ etiquette, I had a giant chip on my shoulder, I didn’t know “shit” about him, etc. Then came the kicker: “#VivaMediaBill”. This because, apparently, I “assumed” in the piece that H20 had sent him the cartoon. In fact, the column said no such thing but merely noted that the cartoon was posted on H20’s Facebook page in addition to being tweeted by Fresh.

Really Fresh? As a fellow media practitioner surely you know the awful dangers the secrecy Bill, as dubbed by activists, poses to our fragile democracy? It has been criticised for giving corrupt elements in government a free hand to classify any information and thereby criminalise any action trying to reveal abuses of power.

It has been roundly condemned by many: from stalwart activist George Bizos to Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and our embattled public protector, Thuli Mandonsela, who will have her hands effectively tied by the Bill.

Personal insults I could take. Defensiveness, and the near Twitter spamming were all a bit much but understandable. But to reach out with the destructive axe of petty personal offence and smash everything in sight, including freedom of access to information, in a misguided attempt to protect oneself spoke of something worse.

It’s become something of a trend with some people these days, when cast in a bad light in the media, to call for the secrecy Bill. It’s a knee-jerk and deeply selfish reaction. This may come as a surprise but your little ego bruise is not reason enough to call for our entire democracy to be screwed over in some sort of petulant childish rage.

I have no doubt that Fresh is deeply opposed to violence against women and that he only wants the best for our democracy, including freedom of access to information. But he doesn’t think through how his hasty actions and ill-thought remarks betray those beliefs and mislead the massive youth following he commands.

I hate to break this to you Fresh, but the issue of freedom of information is bigger than your ego. Likewise, the issue of women abuse is bigger, too.

This incident had nothing to do with bad media practice and everything to do with your lack of judgment and inability to man up and admit that you were wrong and apologise.

Instead you resorted to ludicrous accusations: “@verashni but you have papers to sell AND sensational shit sells ... i understand ... i hope i helped with your deliverables #PAIDpiperTweet”

I knew there was no point defending myself over Twitter given the answers to those accusations: namely that my column for that week had already been published that very day. I didn’t need to fill a slot nor did the site need the help with extra traffic on a Friday when our newspaper is published, keeping us more than supplied with great content. I wrote an additional column for one reason only: I was deeply disgusted by the cartoon and wanted to draw attention to our society’s casual attitude towards violence against women.

And your other defence, comparing the cartoon to Zapiro’s rape of lady justice cartoon, was laughable. Zapiro used a grave wrongdoing, rape, to draw attention to another grave wrongdoing: the subverting of justice. The portrayal of rape was neither gratuitous nor glamourised, as was the image you tweeted of a woman being punched by a heavyset man, which was in aid of nothing more than DJ etiquette.

A simple retraction and apology for what was clearly a deeply insensitive tweet would have sufficed. Instead you have dug yourself deeper into a pit of hasty and ill-advised remarks that call your principles into question.

  • Verashni is the deputy editor of the M&G Online. You can read her column every week here, and follow her on Twitter here.


Update: Following this column and calls on Twitter and elsewhere, DJ Fresh has apologised for the cartoon.

?@DJFreshSA: “I REPEAT: The assault of ANYBODY (let alone women) is wrong! The Cartoon was about DJ-ing! I apologize unreservedly to those it offended!” he tweeted at about 10am on Wednesday morning.

I commend him for his response, and only wish it had come earlier.

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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