Over the past year, we have seen an escalation of hate speech being disseminated through social media. The authorities, to a large extent, have struggled to truly address this trend. It is for this reason that the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) supports the Portfolio Committee on Communications in its undertaking to amend the Film and Publications Act, 1996. However, the SAJBD is of the view that the extremely complex nature of the electronic media cannot be effectively regulated simply by broadening the already existing Film and Publications Act (FBA).
The SAJBD has therefore made a submission urging the Portfolio Committee to familiarise itself with how Internet policy has evolved in other jurisdictions, in particular in the United States. Even if the proposed amendments were to be enacted, the FBA would still have shortcomings, as it has not sufficiently recognised the realities of how hate speech and racism is disseminated today, as well as lacking any recognition of the extent to which it is driven not by corporate bodies, but by private individuals.
The SAJBD submission suggests the success of this Bill will require a clear and comprehensive definition of what constitutes “hate speech”, as well as what “advocating racism” entails. SAJBD National Chairman Jeff Katz said that while the Board fully supported the right to freedom of expression, this right did not extend to propagating hatred and bigotry, and pointed to the painful and extremely divisive controversy that each case necessarily invokes.
In its submission, the SAJBD further urges that effective procedures be put in place to facilitate criminal action against those guilty of propagating racism and hate speech via the Internet. Such measures were necessary, as people were able to conduct such behaviour through publishing under pseudonyms or stolen identities. The submission also raised the complexities around sharing, forwarding and retweeting of racist material.
The SAJBD appreciates the opportunity provided by Parliament to make oral representations, and will be doing so shortly on this important issue affecting all South Africans.