By Robert Brand and Anne Taylor

We’ve had to put up with David Bullard for years, so it was with delight that we heard he’d been fired. But it seems there are those who are rallying to his defence, citing Machiavellian corporate and political machinations as the real reason for his axing.

It’s all bullshit, of course. David Bullard was fired for writing a column in which he described blacks as being lazy, incapable of technological advancement, genocidal, primitive and clueless — all the while waiting for someone else to blame for their misfortunes.

That is racist.

So, imagine you’re at a dinner party where you come face to face with a Bullard supporter. Here’s our quick guide on how to respond to “Bring back Bullard” arguments:

1. The Sunday Times fired Bullard because he is critical of the government and the ANC
That is preposterous. The newspaper itself is the government’s most vocal critic. Yes, the ANC hates the Sunday Times — but that’s not because of Bullard; it is because of its editor, Mondli Makhanya.

The column is not in any way critical of the ANC or the government. All it does is make some deeply offensive comments about Africans.

2. It’s a free-speech issue
Yes, it’s a free country and you can say what you want. You’re even allowed to insult and offend people. But nowhere in the Constitution does it say you have the right to share your prejudices with the more than three million readers of the country’s biggest newspaper.

3. David Bullard is the new Deon Maas
He is not. Tim du Plessis, the editor of Rapport, first defended Maas’s column — and then caved in after a small minority of its readers launched an SMS campaign to boycott the paper. Du Plessis then fired Maas, citing commercial reasons. In so doing, Du Plessis compromised his own editorial independence.

Makhanya, on the other hand, is exercising his prerogative as editor of the newspaper. He fired Bullard for editorial reasons. Makhanya is on the record as saying that it was his own decision. In other words, he is doing his job — asserting his editorial independence.

The Bullard saga should rather be compared to the firing of Jon Qwelane from the Star some years back, after readers complained about what they regarded as racist rantings against whites. We can’t remember too many white people complaining about that.

4. The real reason Bullard was fired was that he was critical of Avusa
It seems the cocktail-party rumour mill has thrown up that Bullard was actually fired because of a column in Empire magazine, in which he criticised Avusa, the publishers of the Sunday Times.

This is a serious allegation as it undermines Makhanya’s integrity. Nobody has provided a shred of evidence to back up this rumour. Makhanya, however, is quoted — on the record — as saying that his decision had nothing to do with the Empire article.

5. The Sunday Times will lose sales
Some have suggested that the Sunday Times will “undoubtedly” lose sales, especially among upper LSM readers, because of Bullard’s exit. Sure, perhaps some white readers will stop reading the paper. But what about all the black readers that Bullard’s column has alienated over the years?

6. If you’re offended by Bullard, you don’t have a sense of humour
Playing the sense of humour card is no different to playing the race card. Just because something is funny doesn’t make it acceptable. We’ve all laughed at inappropriate jokes. But we don’t put them in the newspaper. Political satire is not a licence to be racist. (This argument would have more force if Bullard’s column had actually been funny.)


Robert Brand

Robert Brand

Robert Brand teaches media law, ethics and economics journalism at Rhodes University. Before joining academia, he worked as a journalist for the Pretoria News, the Star and Bloomberg News.

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