200 people protested yesterday outside the Sunday Sun newspaper’s offices in Johannesburg against a controversial homophobic article from columnist Jon Qwelane published earlier this month entitled “Call me names, but gay is NOT ok…”

The Press Ombudsman has issued a ruling that the article violated the Press Code on three counts.

Mixael de Kock, host of the Bravo Brava radio show, made a speech to the crowd of protesters, slamming Qwelane’s anti-gay stance and warning people that ignoring hate speech ultimately has dire consequences for everyone.

“Media24 cannot distance itself from the views of its employees – not if those views have been printed on paper owned by and then sold by the company,” he said.

“And there is only one question for Media24 to answer: Is it ethical for Media24 to be making profits from spreading writings of intolerance and which may even incite the uninformed to commit crimes of violence against their fellow citizens?”

Mr De Kock also told the crowd that 17 NGOs would hand Media24, owners of the Sunday Sun, a petition calling for Qwelane’s dismissal.

Established in 2002 and aimed at black readers, Sunday Sun is the fastest growing newspaper in South Africa.

The Qwelane article attacks ‘leftists’ and ‘liberals’ and those who support the ordaining of homosexuals and women as bishops in the Anglican Church.

“The real problem, as I see it, is the rapid degradation of values and traditions by the so-called liberal influences of nowadays; you regularly see men kissing other men in public, walking holding hands and shamelessly flaunting what are misleadingly termed their ‘lifestyle’ and ‘sexual preferences,'” he wrote.

“There could be a few things I could take issue with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, but his unflinching and unapologetic stance over homosexuals is definitely not among those,” said Qwelane.

Press Ombudsman John Thloloe issued a ruling after his office received nearly 1,000 complaints.

He said the Qwelane article violated Section 2.1 of the Press Code, which states:

“The press should avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s race, colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or preference, physical or mental disability or illness, or age.”

The Sunday Sun was judged to have published denigratory references to people’s sexual orientation in the column by Qwelane; implied that homosexuals are a lower breed than heterosexuals; and a cartoon accompanying the column, which was also disparaging of homosexuals.

While Mr Thloloe’s ruling was not what many protesters had hoped for, the dismissal of Jon Qwelane, it did ask for an apology:

“The newspaper has already gone a long way to making amends for its offence. I will however rule that it complete the amends by publishing an appropriate apology, which will be provided by the Ombudsman’s office.”