Thursday, 18 July 2013

Does Our Catholic Newspaper Have Right To Press Freedom?

Photo From UNESCO - Press Freedom

It is no secret that I am not a fan of The Southern Cross. I have not been shy about expressing my concerns about this newspaper on this Blog and in other places, like on Twitter. I have stated over and over again that this newspaper should either change its content, or the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference should no longer permit this newspaper to be sold from within our churches.

In the last couple of days I was engaged in yet another debate about The Southern Cross on Twitter. One of the things that were said to me has helped, unwittingly of course, to highlighted my point about this newspaper.

I was asked by someone, who was not really part of the Twitter debate but chose to insert himself in it, if my objection to The Southern Cross being sold in our churches meant that I didn't believe in press freedom?

This is exactly my point. The Southern Cross has no right to press freedom! No matter what it likes to claim, The Southern Cross is not a newspaper in the true sense of the word.

If The Southern Cross is a newspaper, like any other newspaper in South Africa, except with a Catholic emphasis, then why on earth should it have the right to be sold from within our churches? Why does it have this special right of access to Catholics inside of our churches? Why can other newspapers in South Africa not equally have access to our churches to sell their publications every Sunday?

Let’s be absolutely clear. I certainly do not believe that press freedom should be limited. Equally, no restrictions should have to apply to The Southern Cross, provided that it is willing to truly be a newspaper and survive in the same environment that all other newspapers in South Africa are required to survive.

If The Southern Cross wants to claim press freedom then it should accept this freedom completely. This includes surviving financially on the basis of sales to loyal readers who seek it out at vendors, who are not situated inside of our churches. It is only then that The Southern Cross will truly have the right to claim the press freedom to publish whatever it chooses to publish.

The problem is that The Southern Cross is without a shadow of a doubt being propped up by the Church in South Africa through artificial sales. Catholic parishes are paying for a certain quantity of newspapers delivered to the parish every week. Few parishes keep track of the actual sale of these newspapers. Instead newspapers are packed out somewhere in the church and parishioners help themselves, usually with the understanding that they pay for the newspaper in the Mass collections or some other collection point in the church. In the same way the parish just pays for the unsold newspapers, which are rarely returned to The Southern Cross for a refund. 

I have absolutely no doubt that if The Southern Cross was put into a newspaper vending machine in the back of the churches, so that only those who pop money into the machine actually get a copy of the newspaper to read, the sales of this newspaper would plummet. 

The current sales system used by The Southern Cross is taking advantage of parishes and conveniently distributing the newspapers without any conscious sales transaction taking place. As a result The Southern Cross is not really deriving its revenue purely from the sale of its publications, but instead from a system that causes money to be diverted from its intended destination, to an independent newspaper business who was not the true intended recipient of the donation. Don't get me wrong. This is not by design, but it is the unintended consequence in some instances.

The Southern Cross is most certainly not a newspaper like any other newspaper in South Africa. It is wholly reliant on the Catholic Church in South Africa. Until it is not reliant on the Catholic Church in South Africa it does not have the right to claim press freedom like a newspaper does. 

The Southern Cross must therefore, amongst others, ensure that its content is always free of doctrinal error (which Canon Law requires if it is to be sold within our churches anyway) and that it does not serve as a platform to promote the causes of dissidents within the Church or the agendas of certain groups within the Church – not even the conservatives. If it refuses to comply, it should be banned.


  1. The point is well taken, Mark. If the newspaper has right to free speech then it, like all other press, belongs to the streets, bumper to bumper.

  2. Nice pipe. Are you cogitating as you smoke it? Love the smell of pipes.

  3. Interesting point Mark. In fact, in our parish sales of The Southern Cross are actively promoted, so I always thought the content was approved and condoned by the Church. Who does in fact own the newspaper?

  4. I once wrote and asked the editor for information about ownership, funding and related questions. I was told to mind my own business.

    I am led to believe that the bishops do own 50% of the newspaper. However they do not have control over the weekly content. They have most certainly not approved all content. They most also do not endorse the contents as being free of doctrinal error, which I believe needs to happen when it is not a plain news story.

    I suspect that by appointing a lay editor, the bishops lost significant control of the newspaper and their challenge is in how to go about regaining that control.