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"City Press" newspaper drops controversial image of president from website

By Steven M. Ellis, IPI Senior Press Freedom Adviser

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, May 29, 2012 - The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned pressure that led South Africa's City Press newspaper to pull from its website an image of a painting showing President Jacob Zuma as Lenin with his penis exposed.

City Press Editor and IPI Executive Board Member Ferial Haffajee wrote yesterday that the newspaper decided to take down the controversial image, which had accompanied a review of a satirical art exhibition in a Johannesburg gallery, “Out of care and as an olive branch to play a small role in helping turn around a tough moment”.

The image had inflamed tensions in South Africa and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party last week called for a boycott of City Press until the “insulting portrait” was removed from the newspaper's website.

IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said the pressure City Press faced was “exactly the type of thing we fight against”, adding: “While we understand the sensitivity of the subject, City Press' reporting was on a matter of public interest. The actions taken by the ANC – which we again condemn as abuse and harassment -- will lead only to future self-censorship by journalists. Worse, it will add fuel to the disturbing belief by those in power that they can muzzle the media to stifle unwelcome or embarrassing critiques of their behaviour.”

Haffajee explained her decision yesterday in a column posted on City Press' website.

“We take down the image in the spirit of peacemaking – it is an olive branch,” she said. “But the debate must not end here and we should all turn this into a learning moment, in the interest of all our freedom.”

She added, however: “Of course, the image is coming down from fear too. I'd be silly not to admit that. The atmosphere is like a tinderbox: City Press copies went up in flames on Saturday; I don't want any more newspapers burnt in anger.”

ANC leaders last week demanded that the Goodman Gallery remove the painting and Zuma's attorney asked a regional high court to ban the painting from public display. The gallery eventually moved the painting after two protesters vandalized it.

ANC leaders today reportedly maintained their demand for an apology from Haffajee “to the people of South Africa”. Party representatives today also led a march on the gallery by ANC supporters to protest the display of the painting.

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