Verashni Pillay, the editor-in-chief of Huffington Post South Africa has resigned after the country’s press ombudsman condemned the website’s “racist” publication of a blog post calling for voting rights to be stripped from white males.
In their ruling, the South African press ombudsman called on Huffington Post SA to “apologize unreservedly to the general public” for publishing text that was, according to the ombudsman, “discriminatory and derogatory,” “malicious,” “contained factual inaccuracies,” “was against the public interest,” “impaired the dignity and reputation of many people,” and “amounted to hate speech.”
The ombudsman is also calling on Huffington Post SA to apologize for “blaming its system, instead of probing deeper into the sexist and racist nature of the blog” in their response to the controversy.
Former editor-in-chief Pillay said: “I respect the office of the press ombudsman and have decided to tender my resignation.”
The controversy arose as a result of an article, published on the Huffington Post South Africa’s website on April 13, entitled “Could It Be Time To Deny White Men The Franchise?”
The article made the case for stripping voting rights from white men, on the basis that white male voters were responsible for “some of the biggest blows to the progressive cause in the past year” including Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump.
After public backlash, Pillay initially defended the piece. In a blog post on 14 April, Pillay wrote: “dismantling the patriarchal systems that have brought us to where we are today, a world where power is wielded to dangerous and destructive ends by men, and in particular white men, necessarily means a loss of power to those who hold it.”
It later emerged that the author of the piece, supposed feminist activist “Shelley Garland” was in fact the pseudonym of Marius Roodt, a male employee of a Johannesburg-based think-tank who submitted the piece to the Huffington Post in order to expose their lack of fact-checking and oversight.
Three editors of HuffPo South Africa tracked Roodt down to his workplace, where they publicly shamed him live on camera, with one editor accusing him of letting “his own anger com[e] out” through the piece, and asking him if he was “sorry” for what he did.
After being confronted, Roodt immediately resigned from his position at the think-tank, the Centre for Development and Enterprise.
The South African press ombudsman, however, appears to have upheld Roodt’s suspicions about the Huffington Post, specifically condemning their factual inaccuracies, as well as their racism and sexism.
After it emerged that the article was a hoax, Pillay backtracked on her original decision to defend it. “I did not make it clear enough in my initial response that I absolutely do not agree with the disenfranchisement of any group of people,” wrote Pillay. “I don’t hate white men.”
The complainant who brought the case to the ombudsman’s attention, Dr. Christopher McCreanor, said he did not accept the Huffinton Post’s attempt to pin the blame on Roodt. “What is concerning is that [Pillay] has allowed an extremely sexist and racist post to be published in the first place” said McCreanor.
In their ruling, the South African press ombudsman made it clear that Pillay was free to publish and defend anything she wished, but not within the confines of the South African press code, which the article violated.
Despite his services to South African journalism, Marius Roodt has yet to be reinstated in his former position at the Centre for Development and Enterprise.