Am I to conclude that every black-hating, white-hating sexist News 24 user is a coward? I mean a proper lily-livered coward? Yesterday I challenged the News 24 community to stand by their convictions, to stand up for their right to ‘say what they want, when they want’.
‘Freedom of speech is sacrosanct’; ‘It is an inalienable right of South Africans to express their ideas even if such ideas cause offence’ were many of the responses to the article. But these responses are wrong, in law and in society at large.
Firstly, your right to ‘freedom of expression’ is limited by the Constitution of South Africa, specifically under Chapter 2 entitled the Bill of Rights. So contrary to all the anonymous defenders of their right to freedom of expression, you may not say what you want in public, and I quote directly from the Constitution:
16. Freedom of expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes
a. freedom of the press and other media;
b. freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
c. freedom of artistic creativity; and
d. academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
2. The right in subsection (1) does not extend to
a. propaganda for war;
b. incitement of imminent violence; or
c. advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
Section 16, point 2 c. specifically excludes the ‘advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion’.
So when a ‘brave’ anonymous N24 contributor posts a bigoted, racist or sexist remark – which IS ADVOCATING hatred, they have according to the supreme law of South Africa, overstepped their right to freedom of expression. That IS THE LAW. And these people should be held accountable for their PUBLIC comments.
That is why Julius Malema cannot just say what he likes about Indian people, or about women, or about Boers without facing the consequences of his utterances. And rightly so. His right to express himself is not unlimited, nor are those of users of News 24.
A case in point, is Spartan888’s recent post on Islam. In an appalling display of racism and bigotry Spartan888 felt ‘entitled’ to express his opinion in an utterly offensive manner. Is Spartan888 entitled to his opinion? Yes, of course he is. Is he entitled to express his opinion? Yes once again. But do people offended by his remarks have the right to dignity? The right to recourse? Absolutely YES. Section 10 and section 34 of the Bill of Rights enshrines this, and I quote,
10. Human dignity
Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.
34. Access to courts
Everyone has the right to have any dispute that can be resolved by the application of law decided in a fair public hearing before a court or, where appropriate, another independent and impartial tribunal or forum.
Again, is Spartan888 ‘allowed’ to express his opinion –absolutely YES. Can he do so without consequence? No. Law works only if there is consequence. However, in a stunning display of cowardice, Spartan888 refuses to reveal his personal identity to the world, and by doing so News 24 becomes complicit in denying people their Constitutional right to seek redress. It does NOT matter whether you think something offends me or does not offend me, the courts can decide that – but allowing the advocacy of hatred and racism without any consequence as anonymous News 24 contributors seem so adept at strips people of their rights too.
Never forget people, that the Constitution enshrines YOUR rights. It protects minorities from the tyranny of the majority. It always has and it always will – but the Constitution does NOT afford you the right to infringes on the rights of others. In fact when you infringe on my rights, the Constitution protects me, not you.
So apart from the, quite frankly, illegal nature of the racism, sexism and bigotry of much of the ANONYMOUS and COWARDLY News 24 commentators; let’s discuss the social acceptability of this behavior in this public space.
News 24 is a public space. It markets itself as news site to the general public. That immediately, under law, places a certain responsibility on News 24 to act as a good corporate citizen. And good corporate citizens must uphold the law. If an employee of News 24 were to make racist remarks in the office (in public), I am quite sure they would be fired. So just because News 24 exists in cyber-space, does not make it any less of a public space, and does not diminish its responsibility to afford me an opportunity to exercise my Constitutional right to dignity and recourse.
News 24 is not a right-wing, fascist haven – it is public news aggregator. No one is denying racist people their own websites – by all means – you have a right to freedom of association (Section 18 of the Bill of Rights); but you cannot be allowed to make anonymous statements in a public forum with no consequences. You make statements, but you must face the consequences of those statements.
It is not good enough for News 24 to simply disclaim ‘the content on News 24 is generated by users’, allowing them to disown potential liability. Because by allowing completely anonymous postings, they in effective deny other people their rights under law. The New York Times does not allow anonymous postings – and the US has a constitution that protects the freedom of expression – because the US understands that people also have a right to recourse. So News 24 users don’t think you’re your anonymous expressions of opinion is a Constitutional right. If there is no option of recourse then it is absolutely not.
So returning to public acceptability, what if we approached all the companies that advertise on News 24 with examples of all the racist vitriol, and asked them if they really want their brands associated with such uncivilized sentiment? What do you think any rational brand and marketing manager would say?
Let’s say a racist or sexist bigoted user of News 24 user had the guts to defend their right to freedom of expression in a public manner. Like user ‘Kim’ anonymously yesterday asserted she would ‘say to anyone’s face’ – do you think if we wrote to Kim’s employer perhaps and asked them if they considered her behavior socially acceptable of their employees, she may moderate her response? Perhaps if we all knew who Kim was she may venture her opinion in a more manner more respectful of other people’s right to dignity. I think she would. Because if she said something as bigoted as she said yesterday on News 24 in the office, in public, the consequences of her utterances would be severe and immediate - because society deems her behavior completely abhorrent. So if she won’t say it in the office, why the hell does she feel she can say it here? News 24 is no less public than her office! In fact it is more so!
Now you may think I am trying to kill debate. Let me state it very clearly and simply. I AM NOT.
But there is a difference between being a conservative and being a bigot. One is socially respectable, the other is not. There is a difference between saying you ‘prefer your own kind’ and disparaging someone else’s choice publicly. One is perfectly reasonable, the other in fact illegal. And I will challenge anyone in court who feels otherwise.
Yesterday, some News 24 users quoted Voltaire’s ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it’ in quaint and noble defence of the right to free speech. I genuinely hoped this to be the case, but when the chips were down, they wouldn’t even make their identity known to the public, never mind ‘defend to death’ anything. So quoting Voltaire is just feeble showboating unless you really do understand the true meaning of Voltaire’s honourable statement. I suspect posting anonymous internet jibes was the furthest thing from Voltaire’s mind when he coined the phrase.
So there you have it. Rights, Racism, the Constitution. The magnificent Constitution. It affords me every right that it affords you. It does not afford you the right to deny me my rights though. Go read the Bill of Rights. If you have something to say, stand up and be counted. You have the right to say whatever you want – as racist, sexist and bigoted as that may be – the constitution protects your right to do so, but the constitution does not afford you rights without responsibility. If there is no consequence for your actions, there’s no law, there’s no justice – and even the bigots on News 24 want to live in a just society.
You have a responsibility to yourself to defend your rights, as I am doing now, so please don’t slink away like a snake into the dark recesses of internet anonymity. That’s not respectable. That’s not honourable. In fact, Anonymous News 24 commentator it’s extremely cowardly.
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