Opinion: Obscene language

POSTED: 12/21/12 2:21 PM

Our Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor has a problem with obscene language. Minister Cornelius de Weever, a true gentleman if there ever was one (we’re not joking), berated “the media” at Wednesday’s press briefing about using “foul or obscene language.”

Our first thought was: falls this under public health, social development or labor? We could not figure it out. And who are “the media”?

It did not take us long to figure out that the minister must have been talking about Today. In June 2010 we published a picture of the former Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende sporting a tee shirt with a text that could be interpreted as “foul language.”

It is actually a tee shirt that would fit Minister De Weever well. Balkenende put on the shirt, knowing darn well that there were photographers around. The tee was an initiative of a group called Courageous Mothers who organized a campaign against drug abuse.

This newspaper put the picture on the front page. Did we do this because the tee shirt spelled a word that begins with the sixth letter of the alphabet, followed by the twenty-first, the third and the eleventh? Well, in a way, the answer to that question has to be yes.

But there is of course more to that picture than meets the eye. First of all, Balkenende was the Prime Minister of the Netherlands when he put on that shirt. Secondly, he was the leader of the Christian Democratic Appeal, a party based on biblical principles. What Balkenende did that day was not obscene; it was an extremely strong message, an outcry against drug abuse. That is why we chose to publish that particular picture.

More recently, Today published a story about a clash at the cadastre office between director Clemens Roos and two parliamentarians – Patrick Illidge and Roy Marlin. In July the two MPs went to the Cadastre to settle a matter for a first cousin of Illidge. On that occasion, Illidge told Roos “not to fuck with parliamentarians.”

Illidge later admitted at a press conference that the meeting at the Cadastre had “gotten out of control.”

Minister De Weever apparently objects to the use of the third word in Illidge’s first statement we quoted above. Correction: he objects to publishing that word.

In other words: that Illidge used the expression is not a problem, but that a newspaper reports about it is.

This is of course the world upside down. It is an old story too: blame the messenger.

We never heard Minister De Weever stand up in parliament to tell MPs that they should not use foul or obscene language. That’s rather inconsistent, at least – in our opinion.

At Today we believe in honest, fair and above all clear reporting. We also think it is fair to demand from politicians that they make unambiguous statements. By addressing “the media” about the use of foul language, the minister does not only accuse all media outlets, he is berating them like a school teacher.

We’re responsible enough to know when to use certain expressions that are not part of the daily menu we serve our readers. In the cadastre story the use of the four-letter word MP Illidge threw at director Roos was simply essential. Had Illidge said for instance something like, “Mr. Roos could I politely ask you to treat parliamentarians with respect?” there would not have been a story at all.

We suddenly remember another example: a picture we published of a building on Bush Road that was defaced with graffiti. And yep, there was that infamous four-letter word again. why do we publish such pictures? For the pleasure of seeing the f-word in print? Or to push those who are responsible for what the public space in our community looks like to take some action.

We have been writing now almost 700 words about obscene language and we used that word Minister De Weever does not want to read just once – in a quote from a politician.

Let’s have a look at another picture we took only the day before yesterday on the French side, just outside of Rambaud. We were actually out to show a charming initiative called Toi là! Je t’aime! (You there, I love you).

The text has sprung up all over Marigot. But this particular photo shows an addition. Somebody wrote: Fou moi la paix, mais …. followed by an arrow to the Toi là! Je t’aime! Statement.

Our French is reasonable but not good enough to understand the hand-written expression. So we asked somebody we know very well and whose French is impeccable.

When we heard the translation, our first reaction was to laugh uncontrollably. A bit of added pleasure came from the fact that a car of the gendarmerie just passed by when we snapped the picture. After we had wiped the tears of laughter from our face, we decided to use the picture on this page, but to leave the translation up to the imagination of our readers. Those who master the French language will obviously understand. One piece of friendly advice in the spirit of Christmas: do not whisper the translation into Minister De Weever’s ear. It might ruin his holidays.

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