MWEB apology and City Press

Minority ReviewOn January 19 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance lodged an objection against an MWEB radio advert produced by M&C Saatchi Abel Cape Town entitled “Witchcraft”.

The tongue-in-cheek ad portrayed members of a mythical ‘coven of Gwadana Forest‘. The usual allegations against Witches are made – that Witchcraft is ipso-facto ‘black magic’, that a sister Witch fell from her magical transport device, and that Witches create zombies from the dead and curse people. The ad ends with conveners being encourage to join twitter in order to “cast more curses” and Facebook in order to “send hellfire through someone’s Facebook inbox”, by subscribing to MWEB’s Internet package.

The South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) objected to the stereotypical characterization of Witches as intentionally wicked and dangerous.

As an ngo that represents actual Witches in South Africa, and as the only ngo in this country advocating against witch-hunts, SAPRA calls on MWEB to earnestly reconsider airing this flippant disregard for the very real victims of witch-hunts perpetrated against innocent women, children and men (often of largely Xhosa speaking communities) who have been and are falsely accused of bewitching others.

Witch-hunts are not relegated to some distant romantic folkloric past in this country, but remain a shameful example of very real and brutal human rights abuses that the current ANC government refuses to acknowledge or respond to.

REMEMBER THEIR NAMES – Victims of witch-hunts in South Africa 2000 to 2013
The following represents available published news reports of witch-hunts in South Africa for the periods 2000 to 2005 and 2010 to 2013.

Do the right thing and condemn witch-hunts! Don’t encourage them for profit!

SAPRA received the following apology from Luanne Slingerland, Account Director of Atmosphere Communications.

“We are deeply sorry for any offence caused by the once off radio advert. It was certainly not the intention. What we were trying to do was create a memorable radio advert that presented our offer in a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek manner rooted in the culture of the consumers we were talking to. The ad was done very much in the style of the isiXhosa radio dramas that play on isiXhosa stations.

We have taken your concern to heart and the advert will not be aired again.

We hope this helps clear up our intent, and we thank you again for contacting us and giving us the opportunity to respond.”

As of 23 January, no apology has been forthcoming from MWEB.

To add insult to injury in their coverage of this complaint, City Press journalist Nokuthula Manyathi incorrectly alleged that MWEB had apologised to SAPRA, and attributed a false statement to SAPRA’s director, to wit “He said the misinformation and ignorance surrounding the faith had led to the terrorisation of modern-day witches.”

He said no such thing! I said, misinformation and ignorance encourages witch-hunts against people who are falsely accused of bewitching others! No modern Witches in SA are being “terrorized”, because as I explained to the journalist, the victims of witch-hunts in this country are never real Witches and have never self-identified as Witches! Modern Witches are not the victims of witch-hunts!

City Press ignored the real human rights abuses which motivated SAPRA’s objection against MWEB’s radio advert – the murder of women, men and children on false accusation of ‘witchcraft’!

But the article highlighted another common offending error, one committed by virtually all South African editors – an editorial stylebook bias against Pagans. The article failed to capitalize the word Pagan, despite the fact that the word in context refers to members of an actual religious movement – Paganism.

“It is a matter of continuing frustration to modern self-identified Pagans that newspaper and magazine copy editors invariably print the proper terms for their religion (i.e., “Pagan” and “Paganism”) in lower case. Journalists who have been confronted about this practice have replied that this is what the Associated Press and Chicago Stylebooks recommend.” Oberon Zell – Pagans petition Stylebooks to capitalize “Pagan”

The time has come for South African journalists and editors to review their commitment to fairness and accuracy when covering stories affecting minority religions. Check your facts and update your stylebooks!

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