By Pinky Khoabane
How ironic that after years of Blacks being on the receiving end of the most racist vitriol in the comments sections of most, if not all South African newspapers, the online publication BlackOpinion is shut down for being associated with “a couple of organisations which were nefarious in nature,” according to an EWN report.
Writing for the Sunday Times I used to get a range of hateful threats – from greenie beanies threatening to gauge-out my eyes and have me raped and readers who sent me parcels and letters that I wouldn’t open for fear they’d placed bombs in them.
Until 2015 when News24 decided to close down its comments section, it was free for all with the most vicious racist bile spewed on Blacks. Blacks in their docility adopted in the New South Africa, complained bitterly but stood by and did not press charges against the hate speech these online newspapers were carrying. Whites did not come to their defence and demand the sites be shut-down.
And all of a sudden we have a man, A South African expat by the name of Martin Peake, according to EWN, who had “taken it upon himself to launch a petition on state capture” who discovered the offensive BlackOpinion site.
He contacted the Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA) and complained that the site promoted hatred. The EWN report says he also mentioned BLF’s harassment of some editors.
You will remember that South African editors, through South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) interdicted BLF from harassing and intimidating journalists and going to their houses. http://uncensoredopinion.co.za/sa-medias-dangerous-precedents/ Given that a court of law ruled, you’d think the matter was done unless the lobby group defied the order, which would be dealt with within the courts.
However a report of Peake’s ONE complaint, which UnCensored has seen, that prompted the domain host company to shut down Black Opinion simply says this:
“This is Gupta financed false news and is stoking racial hatred”.
“Remove or I have the company and this organisation face the public wrath. 12 hours and the campaign begins”.
Having received this threat and viewed the content, which the letter from the ISPA does not specify, it instructed the domain host company to inform BlackOpinion to remove the content or face closure. The online publication didn’t comply with the instruction and has now been shut down.
The process by which this decision was reached must be swiftly challenged on the principle of protecting freedom of speech and press freedom. All regulatory bodies that govern the way the press operate have guidelines which when broken, a process is followed and various sanctions are meted to the “offending” party. The Press Ombudsman does this all the time for print media and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA (BCCSA) for electronic media. The offending party is given a chance to answer to clearly laid-out charges and in front of a panel of adjudicators who then make clear findings which we can all read and accept or challenge. For goodness sake, even racists who say the most obvious of hateful speech are given a chance to answer to charges. They are allowed to have representation and not this McCarthy-style process that took place here.
We cannot have McCarthyism being practiced by some regulatory bodies to muzzle the voices they dislike. McCarthyism was a series of small lies which helped legitimise a bigger lie about those suspected of being adversaries of the state, in most cases ordinary citizens were accused of being suspects. Anybody who threatened the state or was suspected of being a threat would be labelled all manner of terms which helped whip-up emotions of the larger populace. The label “Communist” carried detrimental effects on people. They lost their jobs and their children became victims. Many voices were crushed for fear of being labeled. People who called for reforms went underground for fear of persecutions. McCarthyism managed to create populist paranoia that injected fear among people.
In typical McCarthyism, Peake is said to have complained of BlackOpinion’s association with “a couple of nefarious” organisations. Which are these organisations and who determines what is “nefarious”? In the complaint UnCensored has seen, he mentions “Gupta financed false news” and “stoking hatred” – this is that narrative of the Bell Pottinger falsification that it stoked racial hatred. We’ve already mentioned here that South Africa is a racially divided country and could never be assisted by any public relations company.
There’s nothing in Peake’s complaint that we have seen that mentions the issue of intimidation of journalists on the part of BLF, which as I mentioned earlier was dealt with in a court of law and the issue of some of the posts and articles on BlackOpinion were also addressed in that court. A ruling was made and it did not include shutting down the site.
Many lives have been lost to attain the human rights we enjoy in South Africa today. We have regulatory bodies which openly and transparently address issues which infringe on the rights of others and the related issues of hate speech. We cannot have a bunch of bogey men and women sitting in a room somewhere and taking decisions on content they dislike. The measure of a democracy is protecting the rights of those you dislike. This ISPA must comply with democratic principles and quickly change how it operates. I’m not in any way suggesting they were incorrect in the conclusion they made, the content which prompted the shut-down is not available publicly, but Im simply saying we need to know how they came to that conclusion.