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State broadcaster accuses newspaper of theft following broadcast of documentary

(MISA/IFEX) - The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has laid a charge of "stolen property" after the "Mail and Guardian Online" posted on the web an episode of the current affairs programme "Special Assignment", a documentary report on political satire. The public broadcaster pulled the episode on the evening of 26 May 2009, citing "internal processes," after initially pulling it just before the elections in April. The "Mail and Guardian" immediately posted the documentary online.

The documentary takes a look at political satire in South Africa and explores the fact the President Jacob Zuma is suing award-winning cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, known as Zapiro, for millions of rand, in part for publishing a cartoon portraying him about to rape Lady Justice. Shapiro drew this cartoon as Zuma was involved in a court bid to have graft charges dropped. It also features interviews with satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys, who said that satire "is the only weapon we have . . . the weapon of affront through laughter".

Uys said Zuma's most important commitment was to the protection of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and expression. "If Jacob Zuma, President Zuma, is intending to sue us I challenge him to put me on top of his list because I will never, ever, ever allow him one moment's peace."

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago told the "Mail and Guardian Online" on 28 May 2009 that the case for "theft" would be presented at the Brixton police station. Kganyago said in a statement that the corporation viewed the action by the "Mail and Guardian Online" as "unprofessional" and that it had undermined the public broadcaster and the "public at large".

"Mail and Guardian" editor Nic Dawes said that it was precisely the M&G Media Communications Ltd.'s professional duty to make material of this nature public. "The SABC is a public broadcaster with a constitutional mandate to serve the people of South Africa and to do so without fear or favour. The 'Mail and Guardian' believes that the public have a right to see for themselves the episode of Special Assignment which the corporation has twice pulled off the air. The SABC can be an extraordinary force for good in our national life but it is being squandered by greed and inept and politically compliant leadership."

Zapiro usually portrays Zuma with a dripping shower attached to his head. This was in response to a comment from Zuma during his rape trial in 2006 in which he stated he had showered after sex with his HIV-positive accuser. Shapiro has since removed the shower head from his cartoons, telling the South African Press Association that: "I thought I will take stock of where we are and give the presidency a chance to get going."

Referring to the shower, ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte says in the documentary that Shapiro had taken a comment in the court case out of context and then used a "derogatory" image, a shower, "and thought that that would be funny".

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To read the full text of the press release, see:

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