‘Poof’ goes our broadcasters’ boldness

The latest Nando’s advert focused on diversity and xenophobia has, unsurprisingly, caused a stir.

This is just what the people at Nando’s wanted, except they weren’t expecting the stir to be coming from the broadcasters.

SABC was the first to say they weren’t going to run the advertisement, but soon DStv and e.tv followed. Each have cited rather mysterious reasons, some sounding quite serious, like, “it contravenes the Advertising Standards Authority Code” or, as reported in the media, the SABC said, “it contravenes the Electronic Communications Act”. Which sections have allegedly been contravened is unclear. Other reasons mentioned have included that it trivialises xenophobia, or that it may cause offence to some viewers.

The decision is as surprising as it is disturbing and worrying censorship. The broadcasters are within their rights to say no but the question remains why?

It seems a rather unusual step to take to avoid controversy; all the more so given that it had already gone viral on social media.

Xenophobia is alive and well in South Africa , as evidenced by the sporadic outbursts of violence, usually against African traders and, sadly, discussions on it are avoided far too often.

A recent Times front page story focused on the poor treatment of African foreign nationals and their protests at Lindela refugee centre. While not overtly about xenophobia, it clearly focused on related issues. But it didn’t stir any heated debate, when the issues raised should have caused offence to all.

Sadly, it was only raised after a video from a company trying to sell us chicken was released. Given the issues of xenophobia we face, even if it is an advert that appears to raise a serious issue in its effort to sell chicken, the message the broadcasters leave us with is that we should rather not discuss it.

Surely if it is able to get people to talk about xenophobia or other questions of identity, even better.

The suggestion that it was not broadcast as it may offend some viewers is simply ridiculous for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is clearly a spoof of xenophobic logic taken to extremes with people literally being “poofed” away. Sure, it doesn’t deal with the nuances of colonialism and land grabs and other questions of identity, and indeed it may be heavily critiqued on this aspect, that it effectively wipes out any discussion of these issues. But then we’re forgetting it is an advert for chicken and not a documentary on xenophobia and identity and land issues. If people think it sweeps these issues under the carpet, they should be able to challenge the advert, critique it and choose to not buy Nando’s, but not airing it because it may offend as it is ideologically flawed prevents people from challenging it, and allows such positions to dominate.

Secondly, to suggest it isn’t being shown as it may offend people, undermines media’s role, especially the public broadcaster, to challenge its audiences. Despite contrary views, the SABC does actually challenge its’ viewers on occasion.  A recent talk show, Interface, led a discussion on homosexuality and African culture. It focused on the call from the house of traditional leaders to remove sexual orientation from the equality clause in the Constitution. This debate and discussion is to be applauded.

Thirdly, and perhaps most obviously, there are far more adverts that actually do offend viewers. Some so poorly made they offend your intellectual sensibilities, while others plainly reinforce racial, sexual and gender stereotypes, not to mention deeply problematic ideological views.

So the question remains why avoid controversy? Is it perhaps a hangover of The Spear debate, or is it really about the land question and the fear that it is too sensitive to raise?

Or is it that our broadcasters can’t take the heat? Either way one thing their decision will do, is ensure even more people know about it and want to see it.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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