SACP secretary-general Blade Nzimande yesterday chastised South African newspapers for failing to regulate their online versions, which he said published “racist comments” from readers.
Speaking during the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the death of former SACP leader Joe Slovo at Avalon Cemetery in Soweto, Nzimande stopped short of calling for censorship of readers’ comments to stories published online.
Nzimande claimed newspapers allowed “racists space to hurl insults”.
He questioned the newspapers’ stand on racism, saying they showed no intention of curbing these comments.
“In the name of Joe Slovo, we need to intensify the fight against racism on all fronts. There is too much racism and hate speech on the internet.”
“Leave alone Twitter and Facebook, what we’re concerned about as the SACP is all those media houses with internet platforms. They must take responsibility of comments on stories.
“The hatred, the hate speech, the racism, the sexism . you cannot have newspapers allowing something [like this] on their websites. It’s despicable. We’re calling on [the SA National Editors’ Forum] and all media houses to take responsibility for what gets written there. If you allow people to respond to your articles on the internet, you must take responsibility for it.”
Nzimande called on the SA Human Rights Commission to act against racist comments flooding the internet.
“In future, those media houses are going to be sued for what gets written there. We’re calling on the Human Rights Commission to monitor and recommend action that needs to be taken about this racism,” he said.
Freedom of Expression Institute chairma n Anton Harber said he agreed with Nzimande’s concerns about racism and hate speech on the internet, but cautioned against government interference.
“Nzimande is right to be concerned about racism and hate speech on the internet. But I am not certain that the problem lies in the sites of the major media houses.
“Media houses are already legally and ethically responsible for their own sites and obliged to prevent illegal hate speech and racism.
“I hope Nzimande is not suggesting that the government start regulating content and interfering with the websites of our media houses, as this would undermine the power of the internet to give citizens a voice and promote public engagement,” said Harber.
Sanef chairman Mpumelelo Mkhabela said that steps had already been taken to close space for undesirable content online.
“Nzimande is unaware of what Sanef has been doing.
“We’re happy to inform him that in our last annual general meeting in Cape Town, a convergence committee was formed to find mechanisms to independently regulate content in the multimedia space.
“We are developing a regulatory mechanism, not because of pressure, but because we want to publish what is ethically sound,” said Mkhabela.