One of South Africa’s most popular publications has been reprimanded by the national press ombudsman for publishing a homophobic headline.
The ruling relates to an article published by You magazine on the 6th of April this year about the abuse and killing of a child by his mother and her lesbian lover.
The two were found guilty by the courts of the murder. The article, with a front page headline of “How those lesbians killed my son”, related the experiences and thoughts of the child’s father, Jan Botha.
In response to the piece, Glenn de Swardt, Manager: Health Services and Research at Cape Town’s Triangle Project, made a complaint to the press ombudsman. He claimed that the cover line “How those lesbians killed my son” and the article “were prejudiced and fed prejudice against the lesbian and gay community”.
In today’s ruling, the ombudsman, E H Linington, disagreed that the article itself fed public prejudice against lesbians.
He writes that, ”The sexual orientation of the boy’s mother and her partner is relevant and could not be avoided in the article. The father’s views, not those of the magazine, are carried in the article. The fact that he is prejudiced against the two women convicted of murdering his son is something the ordinary reader would expect and understand and therefore take into account when reading the article. In spite of his prejudice, the father does not make adverse comment on lesbians or lesbianism in general”.
With regard to the headline however, Linington agreed with Swardt, adding that the “reference to ‘those lesbians’, lacking any context, feeds prejudice against lesbianism in general. That contravenes the press code’s rule against denigratory reference to people’s sexual orientation”.
He goes on to say that while he accepts the editor’s explanation that this was not intended, it is nevertheless ”a contravention of the press code, however inadvertent it may be”, concluding that “You magazine is reprimanded”. A demand for a retraction or an apology was not made.
In January this year, the press ombudsman reprimanded the Saturday Star for its sensationalistic front page article “Gays declare blood war”, and insisted that the reprimand be prominently published in the newspaper.