Icasa asked to probe rise of fake news


Cape Town - The DA has asked the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa to probe the rise in fake news reports gaining traction in the country's media.

The party was concerned with the rise of the phenomena in broadcasting news bulletins specfically, it said in a statement on Tuesday.

"With the recent revelations of the ANC’s "black ops" campaign, involving spreading fake news stories about opposition parties, including the DA, to influence our country’s electoral process, we need the necessary authorities to act in order to protect the credibility of the media," spokesperson Phumzile van Damme said.

An amaBhungane investigation last week reported a covert R50m ANC operation to undermine the EFF and DA's campaigns ahead of the 2016 local government elections.

"This rise of fake news – the deliberate publishing and broadcasting of hoaxes and propaganda campaigns based on disinformation in order to advance a specific political or otherwise agenda – is a threat to South Africa’s democracy and requires investigation by Icasa," she continued.

Icasa needs to evolve

She said the media space was constantly evolving and the regulatory body needed to evolve with it.

The inquiry would ideally audit all of South Africa’s broadcast licensees to measure whether there has been an increased reliance on fake news, to identify those responsible, and to then provide solutions, she said.

Icasa appeared before Parliament's portfolio committee on communications on Tuesday, where Van Damme also put the request forward in person.

Icasa councilor Nomvuyiso Batyi said she noted Van Damme's request, and would take it back to acting chairperson Rubben Mohlaloga, who was not present.

She did though say that Icasa dealt primarily with fairness and transparency in the news, and did not regulate actual content, or monitor the print media.

'Toothful or toothless?'

Both Van Damme and ANC MP Mondli Gungubele tested Batyi on the body's ability to follow through with its mandate.

Gungubele was very keen for Icasa to start making proactive steps towards monitoring the broadcasters, rather than simply responding to complaints.

Van Damme said Icasa had constitutional authority to act against those who violated it's orders, and said she would like it to "show its teeth" when its orders were violated.

Batyi revealed that the Hawks would be probing the SABC's apparent reluctance to abide by Icasa's July 11 order to lift the ban on airing violent protest footage, having been escalated from the Brixton and Bramley police stations.

The broadcaster had not yet shown sufficient evidence that it had abided by the order, despite agreeing to do so on July 20.

She said that approaching the authorities and the courts was the right avenue for Icasa to follow.

'Toothful on paper, but toothless in reality'

Gungubele expressed his fear that the Hawks investigation may take too long, which could lead to a perception in society that Icasa was "toothful on paper, but toothless in reality".

The ANC in Parliament, in a statement on Tuesday, welcomed Icasa's progress report, but again encouraged it to be more proactive.

"As the regulator for the South African communications, broadcasting and postal services sector, Icasa must hold its licensees accountable to its laws and regulations.

"We await the outcomes of the criminal investigation and have no doubt that it will be in the interest of the people of South Africa."

Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi, meanwhile, told News24 that he did not yet have the full details of the investigation into the SABC.

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