Yesterday marked a dark day for South Africa, and frankly it’s taken me nearly 20 hours to cultivate the capacity to blog about it. Words like “disappointment” and “astonished” barely scrape the tip of the emotional iceberg. But actually, the biggest question is, “Haven’t we been here before?”
If you remember the last Black Tuesday, or at least remember it from the history books, you’ll know just why inhibiting freedom of speech is such a big deal.
However, I was pleased to see the online solidarity behind the event. It has been a true testament to the power of social media, and one that we ignore at our own peril. #BlackTuesday was a top Twitter trend yesterday, and is likely to stay there for the rest of the week, at least. Facebook was flooded with clever status updates like this one.
(Perhaps I’m easily impressed). And of course there’s the brilliant team marketing Nandos. Ever quick on the draw (hur hur), the poster they released yesterday was nothing short of inspired, and quickly did the FB rounds.
On a serious note, what this means for our country only time will tell. How do you legislate free speech online? I guess we could just ask China that. Besides, wasn’t I just blogging about the US doing something eerily similar?
My philosophically-gifted friend, Farren, had this to say about the matter on Facebook, which may provide some food for thought. Less delicious, perhaps, than the peri-peri chicken, but it leaves more of a sting.
The government’s position is that the bill has a clause making the classification of information as state secrets in order to hide fraud and corruption a criminal offence. Thus, they say, the bill does acknowledge public concerns. Obviously the problem with this is that without a complimentary public interest clause, someone could theoretically still be criminally prosecuted for revealing information that was thus classified, even if the act of classifying the information was itself a criminal act.
I’m not a constitutional expert, but whether it passes muster in the Constitutional Court will obviously relies to the reach of these stipulations in the bill of rights:
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.
32. Access to information
1. Everyone has the right of access to
a. any information held by the state; and
b. any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.
36. Limitation of rights
1. The rights in the Bill of Rights may be limited only in terms of law of general application to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors, including
a. the nature of the right;
b. the importance of the purpose of the limitation;
c. the nature and extent of the limitation;
d. the relation between the limitation and its purpose; and
e. less restrictive means to achieve the purpose.
The last stipulation (36) interests me. … It seems obvious to me some substantive argument must be provided when invoking (36) to limit other stipulated rights, but the wording of the bill itself seems awfully vague.