South African media outlets have been criticised for using an anti-gay slur in an article headline without considering its impact.

The article, headlined “Don’t be a moffie, child porn boy told,” was written by the South African Press Association (SAPA) and distributed to the wider media. Moffie is a traditionally derogatory Afrikaans term for a gay man.

The story concerns the trial of nine people who have been accused of producing child pornography, sometimes involving family members, and the headline is a quote from the testimony of one of the children involved.

According to the article, when the child objected to having sex with a cousin, his grandfather told him that he “must be a man and not a moffie”.

While Radio 702 chose to replace the word “moffie” with the word “homosexual” in its reporting, the headline was repeated verbatim by outlets such as News24.

Christina Engela from the South African Gay and Lesbian Association Against Defamation (SAGLAAD), said she was appalled by the story, but asserted that the shocking context did not justify using the word in the headline.

At issue, she said, is the insensitivity of mainstream media. “I object to news writers using such words without adequate forethought as to how they are presented in print,” said Engela.

“The ‘k’ word in terms of race would never be printed in full in an article on racist name calling – either it would be mentioned as ‘the k word’ or ‘a racist slur’”, she added, insisting that a similar arrangement would be appropriate in “the treatment or handling of homophobic or transphobic slurs by the media”.

Mambaonline.com spoke to SAPA and was struck by the apparent lack of thought involved in the use of the word in the headline.

SAPA Deputy Editor Russell Norton insisted that the word’s use wasn’t meant to be derogatory or to offend anybody. “It was used in context and was a report of what happened in court,” he said.

He also explained that the word had been placed in quotation marks in the original article’s headline to show that it was a quote, although News24 dropped these quotation marks.

Norton admitted, however, that SAPA would never publish a headline with the “k” word in it and said that “this is a good point, and perhaps we must be more sensitive to this”.

“If anyone was offended we unreservedly apologise,” he added.

An uncomfortable Essie Moses, News24 Day News Editor, said that if she had been on duty when the article was published on Thursday night, she would not have used the word. The night editor, Elmarie Jack, was not available.

“I wouldn’t have used it. Usually it’s not our policy to do so,” said Moses, “but it was used in context of the court case and perhaps it was used to highlight the issue of child pornography. That’s the only reason I can think of.”

She too confirmed that the “k” word would never be used in a headline by News24, admitting, “in essence I suppose it amounts to the same thing”.

What do you think? Was the headline appropriate?

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