Is satire about freedom of expression or about the freedom to laugh? Should we, as the public be so eager to laugh that we seek entertainment from anything and everything?
Judge Albie Sachs points out that laughter has its context. “It can be derisory and punitive, imposing indignity on the weak at the hands of the powerful.”
That is where the challenge lies for satire. It can parody a subject, but also potentially cause offense. Where do we draw the line on what can be commented on, and by whom? If we restrict individuals from speaking about certain subjects, we are infringing on their freedom of expression. But are we not infringing on the other’s right to human dignity when we allow others to poke fun at things we hold sacred?
Unfortunately, not even our courts have the answer.
In 2013, Zapiro drew a cartoon depicting the Hindu God Lord Ganesha as the Board of Control for Cricket in India offering money to Cricket SA in return for the sacrifice of its chief executive, Haroon Lorgat. Offended Hindus took Zapiro and the Sunday Times to court on charges of hate speech. However, the ruling judge found them not guilty, and said in future they should proceed with caution.
This asks the question of whether we should hold religious symbols above others. If we ban newspapers from depicting the Prophet Muhammad, should that also apply to Jesus Christ? If we do that, are we then not infringing on the artist’s right to expression and the audience’s right to laugh at anything?
The only thing we know for sure is that there are limits to satire. But how does one draw that line?
As Sachs reminds us, laughter can be “consolatory, even subversive in the service of the marginalised social critics”.
Cue student reporter
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