In a landmark decision, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) has found that owners of private space used commercially for public purposes have no right of censorship or discrimination. The case arose out of a dispute between the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and The Labia, the long-established and only remaining art-house cinema in Cape Town.
In February 2012, The Labia agreed, as part of its normal practice, to rent one of its cinemas to the PSC for the showing of the award-winning documentary film on Israel, ‘The Road Map to Apartheid’. The Labia then unilaterally cancelled this contract and did so without offering the PSC any explanation. Subsequent press reports, however, made it clear that the reason for this cancellation was that film was ‘Israel bashing’ and that The Labia’s owner ‘did not get involved in politics’.
Negotiations between The Labia, the Right-to-Know and the PSC resulted in a subsequent agreement that the film would be shown and would be followed by a panel discussion with the Zionist Federation being invited to be represented on the panel. The Labia cancelled this second agreement when the Zionist Federation declined the invitation.
The PSC appealed the HRC’s original decision, which was that the dispute was only a private contractual one and, as such, did not involve matters arising from the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The HRC has now overturned this decision. It found that The Labia’s action, which was based on the content of the film, ‘constituted discrimination on prohibited ground, namely, belief or conscience’.
It further found that the discrimination ‘amounted to an unjustifiable infringement of the right to receive or impart information or ideas in accordance with Section 16(1) (b) of the Constitution.’ The Labia now has three months in which to show the film it banned.
Welcoming the HRC decision, Martin Jansen, the PSC’s chairperson said he hoped it would serve as a salutary encouragement for people not to be intimidated by Zionist intolerance of anything critical of Israel.
“The right to information is sacrosanct,” he said.
“Israel’s ever increasing crimes against the Palestinian people makes the free flow of information all the more urgent.” VOC