Bullard Fired: What happened to Freedom of Speech?

David Bullard is fired for being offensive in his last column, they say. But, methinks Sunday Times Editor, Mondli Makhanya, had some outside pressures to send the irreverent Bullard packing. Perhaps one of our politicians had a sense of humour failure when he read the last column Bullard wrote. Who knows? Makhanya does, but his approach is deny-deny-deny.


The truth about Bullard is that you either love him or you hate him. There is nothing tepid about his Out to Lunch column. He does not pull any punches where the failure of government to deliver is concerned. He openly points out corruption, he bravely calls the Greedy, greedy and he plainly names the Incompetent, incompetent. He irreverently mocks the (exaggerated) political correctness of South Africans – the lengths they are prepared to go to prove that they are not racist: how they walk on eggs when having to choose words to describe people on the basis of colour. With Bullard there is NO holy cow. This time he may have stepped on the tail of somebody else’s.

But is that not what freedom of press is all about?


In Zimbabwe, journalists are not allowed to write things as they see or experience it. Their opinions have to meekly reflect that of the powers that be. Here I have always believed that life is different. Even if I don’t agree with the opinions aired by a columnist (and columnists are meant to be opinionated), I still respect that opinion for what it is – an opinion. With Bullard being fired because he held opinions that are, as Mondli Makhanya put it: “extremely, extremely, extremely offensive and totally against the values of the Sunday Times and the country.”, I cannot help but feel more than just a little concerned.


Must columnists now bow to the opinion of the paper they write for and by what (or whose) authority does Mr. Makhanya speak on behalf of the country? His comment on 702 reeked like the typical comments made by Anonymous Editor in the Zimbabwean Herald. (Refer my third to last blog entry).


Given the set of circumstances, does it mean that we in South Africa are now in a situation where freedom of speech is conditional and that having an opinion is limited? Do journalists and columnists alike now have to kowtow to ‘those-in-high-places-who-could-take-offence” in order to retain their jobs?


If this is the case, and I have no evidence to prove the contrary, a very sad day has dawned indeed.