US pop superstar Lady Gaga’s first sojourn to South Africa has raised the hackles of newspaper editors and religious fundamentalists alike.
Local organisers Big Concerts informed the press that, while journalists would be admitted, no press photographers would be allowed at the Johannesburg and Cape Town concerts on 29 November and 3 December. The usual practice is that press photographers take photos during the first three songs, which are then splashed across newspaper pages the next morning.
Announcing a retaliatory blackout on Gaga’s concerts, Alastair Ottor, online editor for Independent Newspapers, described it as:
a growing trend toward individuals and organisations imposing these kinds of restrictions on news media. Sporting bodies in particular have started imposing extreme restrictions on news media because of financial interests and this very often extends beyond what we are allowed to cover to how we are allowed to cover it. As the news industry evolves into a new era, placing restrictions on the use of multimedia, or our own photographs, for example, is not something that we as the media should agree to.
Big Concerts, in a typically obtuse response, pleaded ignorance about the reasons for the ban: “This is just how Live Nation (the global concert organisers) does it. They allow journalists and send (publicity) photos out afterwards,” local newspaper Beeld was told.
The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) released a statement decrying the decision “as a form of press censorship fundamentally in conflict with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of media in South Africa”.
Sanef, which represents editors and senior journalists, argued that reporters and photographers are “independent observers” whose coverage the public will only trust if they are not interfered with. “While it is clear that the Lady Gaga tour is just another commercial venture, recent controversy in South Africa regarding a number of religious and other organisations which have protested vigorously against even her very presence in the country, makes her visit a matter of real public interest, and not just ‘of interest’ to her fans.”
Lady Gaga’s freedom to visit South Africa and to perform regardless of any offence she may cause to those opposed to her shows is in fact protected by the freedom of speech provisions in our constitution.
The organisation expressed concern about “a growing trend by commercial event organisers to try to impose censorship or restrictions on the media”.
However, Sanef omitted to mention that the South African press includes multinational companies with a commercial interest in the ownership and distribution of photos.
Gaga has recently been subjected to international press attention exposing her so-called “weight gain”, which would explain why she would want to control the kinds of images that the media elect to distribute of her.
Gaga’s Cape Town concert featured a performance espousing a feminist objection to the control of women’s bodies, as she was wheeled onto the stage hanging among make-believe animal carcases, shouting: “Do you think I am meat? Meat is precisely what we treat women as.”
Independent Newspapers decided to boycott the concerts by not publishing reviews, even though Gaga attracted some 65,000 people in Johannesburg and 40,000 in Cape Town.
But Mail and Guardian online editor Chris Roper ridiculed that stance: “It’s true! Gaga is worse than a Satanist! She’s also an enemy of democracy who spits on our Constitution, and is possibly the worst threat our fledgling country has faced… Seriously, guys? Because Gaga doesn’t want news photographers to take upskirt shots of her meat dress and no veg, it’s a threat to our Constitution?”
Roper pointed out a similarity between Sanef and fundamentalist Christians who started a Facebook page called South Africa: No to Lady Gaga and Satanists. Both, Roper says, represent “outmoded belief systems reacting with antagonism towards the inevitability of the new world. Sanef still seems to believe that it matters a damn to Gaga whether traditional media covers her concerts, and Christians seem to believe that they can stem the tide of rational secularisation.”
The South African Council of Churches, an umbrella body once known for its anti-apartheid resistance, held a small protest at the offices of the government arts and culture department in Pretoria, demanding that Gaga be denied entry into South Africa. A handful of people also protested in Cape Town, insisting that the “bride of Satan” will bring a curse upon South Africa.