“There is nothing light-hearted and humorous in depicting a human being as a terrorist”
The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) ruled that a commercial by Glo mobi ringtones is offensive as it mocks Islamic beliefs. Glo Mobi ringtones was required to withdraw the commercial with immediate effect and not use the commercial again in its current format.
Consumer complaints were lodged against Glo Mobi’s television commercial that was flighted on SABC and DSTV promoting its ringtones. The commercial depicts a stand up comedian holding a skeleton puppet wearing a turban on his head. The puppet demands that the audience keeps quite and states, “SILENCE! I KILL YOU!” The voice-over states “Get the Ahmad the dead terrorist”.
The complainants Mr Moegamat Redoh Kimmie and Zaheer Khan explained that the commercial is offensive and discriminatory against the Islamic religion and creates the impression that all Muslims are terrorists who will kill to get people to be quiet.
In light of the complaint the following clauses of the Code were taken into account: Section II, Clause 1 –” Offensive advertising and Section II, Clause 3.4 –” Discrimination.
The ASA after reviewing judgements of similar cases in South Africa had come to the irrefutable conclusion that “this commercial depicts an Arabic person who has a religious name as a terrorist. There is nothing light-hearted and humorous in depicting a human being as a terrorist, particularly when it is implied that his religion lends him towards such behaviour.”
Accordingly the ruling had stated “It is evident that in Islam, the name Ahmed is considered to be of religious belief as the first prophet. A prophet is a person who speaks for God or a deity, or by divine inspiration. To associate this divine inspiration to a terrorist is offensive to the people who believe in him.”
Media Review Network (MRN) an advocacy group based in Pretoria and the Muslim population at large "welcomes this decision by the ASA and hopes that advertisers will refrain from attempts to mock Islam" said Iqbal Jassat Chairman of MRN. He also called on Glo Mobi to publicly express their regret for having subjected the prophet Muhammed (SAW) to this type of ridicule.
Jassat also added that attempts to invoke humour in situations where Muslims feel aggrieved due to the sustained killings and massacres flowing from illegitimate wars -especially America’s ‘war on terror’ – and the oppression inflicted upon Palestinians by the apartheid state of Israel, is "no laughing matter!".
He hoped that Glo Mobi will respect the ASA ruling by refraining from lodging an appeal. The MRN will continue to encourage consumers to remain vigilant and prevent any form of Islamophobia from rearing its ugly head.
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) had also welcomed the decision by the ASA which reaffirms the importance of having an independent regulatory body which serves and protects the rights of the diverse cultures and religious groups in South Africa as stipulated in our constitution. ASA therefore plays a vital role during these times when financial gains increasingly take a precedent over the honour, dignity and sensitivities of the various communities and religious groups in South Africa.
The MJC’s Nabaweya Malik said “As South Africans we cannot allow our hard earned freedoms and rights to be infringed upon by the irresponsible actions of individuals who flippantly utilize the most powerful tool, the media to violate and endanger innocent individuals by feeding into discredited, disgraced and financial bankrupt nations’ war agendas.
We also wish to caution the National Broadcaster, SABC that even though they have contracts with various advertising bodies such as Glo Mobi, the standards and regulations of this country should still apply when being disseminated to the South African public. Buying broadcasting space should not give an advertising agency carte blanche to broadcast hurtful, damaging, degrading and insensitive material. We therefore wish to request that in order to ensure good relations with the Muslim community the SABC should in good faith;”
a) Take responsibility for the offensive ad and offer an apology to our community.
b) Ensure that material which might be offensive to the religious sensitivities or moral standards within this community be controlled/monitored;
c) address complaints promptly/ or use its self regulatory option or its religious commissioning editors to address serious complaints such as this one in order to alleviate time delays whilst waiting for a judgement;
d) Apply policies which protects the rights of the various groups in this country;
e) Respect the complaints of the SABC’s Religious Broadcasting Panel who have been elected to address the concerns of their community.
The respondent Glo Mobi Ringtones submitted that the clip is from Jeff Durham’s “Ahmed the Dead Terrorist”. Mr Durham is a comedic Auteur and one of America’s premier stand-up comedians. He uses Ahmed the suicide-bomber’s character to look at the funny side of terrorism.
Glo Mobi added that in its view, the clip is not offensive as it is a freedom of expression taken from stand up comedy sessions. It is not depicting or imitating or making fun of anyone. It is also not discriminating or intending to discriminate against any party, religion, race or public.
In Glo Mobi’s response it was relentlessly argued upon that the puppet is not dressed as an Arab. He is wearing a cloth around his head which is a bandage for his injury from being a suicide bomber. The catch phrases “Silence” and “I kill you” are meant to retort to public laughter at his humour, his beady eyes, as well as expressive eyebrows. There was no intent to offend or depict Arabs as terrorists or that they would kill for silence.
The ASA in its ruling stated that this context public laughter cannot be applied to the commercial; viewers were offended in their own homes without being afforded the opportunity to choose not to listen to the joke or references.
The Directorate has to balance interest of freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, with the requirement that the advertisement should not offend. “The question of religion and offence is always a fraught one” said the directorate.