Contextualising the sax appeal and the Danish cartoon furores for South Africa
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This article discusses what a free and responsible press means in pluralistic democracies, focussing specifically on whether that includes the freedom to offend. It argues that there is a distinction between hate speech and offensive speech, as the latter has no malicious intent, but rather occurs in interpretation. The article argues that pluralistic societies such as South Africa need a relatively wide area reserved for controversial speech, so long as it is not hate speech, as toleration of controversial or offensive speech is a difficult but fundamental feature of an open society. This raises the notion of the use of satire in a developing country; where the Sax Appeal cartoons are concerned, the article discusses the wider ramifications of the University of Cape Town pledging to “censor” future student publications, as well as considering the argument put forward by David Benatar, who argues that to pander to “sensitivities” only encourages more indignation and gradually shuts down the range of matters about which we can joke. The article ultimately argues for the necessity of keeping channels of uncomfortable communication open in order to build mutual understanding in a divided society who are ignorant of others’ cultural norms.