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Friday, October 26, 2018

South African Parliamentarians walk out as 'Hate speech' definition rammed without deliberation through NCOP

I received the following from the ChristianView Network newsletter distribution. It is clear, and something that I've been saying all along, that the ANC and all its cronies, serve democracy only as long as it is beneficial to themselves. They will break with protocol to force laws through the process. They have defined hate speech so broad, our opinions may one day land us in jail.

Today 24 October 2018, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Committee on Communications steamrolled the Film & Publications Bill, without proper discussion on the controversial broad definitions of 'hate speech' and 'harm', which would give the Film & Publications Board (FPB) legal director, Pandelis Gregoriou wide powers to regulate the internet.  Gregoriou argued strongly for the broad definitions in the bill.  Google South Africa, The Association of Christian Media, Freedom of Religion South Africa, Cause for Justice, Media Monitoring Africa, SOS Support Public Broadcasting, and the Freedom of Expression Institute argued for a narrow definition not wider than that defined in Clause 16(2) of the Constitution.  It is unprecedented in South African history for all these diverse and ideologically different organisations to agree on any single point.

ChristianView Network argues a broad definition of 'hate speech' and 'harm' in this bill threatens anyone expressing their views in the media or on the internet.  It empowers special interest groups to bully and silence those who oppose them.  It will help those really guilty of hate speech by diverting resources away from them and making justice arbitary.  The politicians who are passing this bill don't realise they are giving a blank cheque to Gregoriou and associated speech police and may end up being the next to be silenced, fined or criminally prosecuted.

Multichoice/DSTV argued that hate speech should be dealt with in the Hate Speech and Hate Crimes Act and not in the FPB Act.  The Jewish Board of Deputies submission said that "The danger of such definitions being presented in too broad terms is two fold. One is that the absence of clearly defined parameters makes it difficult to press home a charge of hate speech, since it often comes down to one person's subjective opinion against anothers.  The second is that the vagueness of terminology can be used to suppress even legitimate forms of expression." ENCA and the Right2Know submitted strong objections to the 2015/16 version of the FPB Bill, but did not comment on the 2017/18 version.

The chairperson Mrs Ellen Prins said that the committee did not need to deliberate on Section 1 which included the "harm" and "hate speech" definitions, because it had already done so. Mr Julius of the Democratic Alliance objected.  Nevertheless, the chair argued this had been discussed when he was absent and his alternate Mrs Labaschagne was present.  I, Philip Rosenthal had been present at all the meetings discussing the FPB Bill, taking notes and recordings and deny this section was deliberated on.  I stepped out of the meeting and phoned Mrs Labaschagne who also denied this. The records of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group also record no such deliberation. https://pmg.org.za/bill/613/

Public hearings took place on 12 September 2018, at which all presenters opposed the hate speech definition. At this meeting Mr Simphiwe Mthimunye asked the state law adviser Mrs Ngema to answer the objections raised in the oral submissions.  She said she would look at them again to try to understand them.  Freedom of Religion South Africa, and the Association of Christian Media met with her and the legal advisers of the FPB and Department of Communications to discuss concerns on 10 October 2018.  It was evident that Mr Gregoriou of the FPB strongly supported a broad hate speech definition and had no sympathy for concerns around threats to free speech.  It turned out he had been behind attacks on free speech in his previous job as head of the Human Rights Commission Legal Services.  Churches and individuals were unjustly bullied and threatened under his tenure at the SAHRC.  The NCOP committee meeting on 10 October was cancelled due to lack of a quorum.  The next meeting was today 24 October. It was thus impossible for there to have been any deliberation on Section 1 (the definitions) after the public hearings and taking into consideration public inputs.

Mr Jacques Julius of the DA argued that the bill had been incorrectly tagged, since it involved consumer protection and thus should require public consultation in every province.  State law adviser, Ms Ngema said the only way to change this was to take it to court.  Ms Nkagisai Koni of the EFF expressed opposition to the bill.

Being banned from discussing the definition of 'hate speech' in clause 1, Mr Julius attempted to raise the issue of hate speech indirectly through later references in the bill.  In response Mr Gregoriou and Ms Ngema repeated the party line in favour of a broad definition.

Frustrated with the inadequate deliberation, Mr Julius (DA), Mr Smit (DA) and Ms Koni (EFF) then walked out of the meeting, leaving it without a quorum - and thus not allowed to take a vote to pass.  The committee chairperson then phoned for reinforcements from her own party and moved the meeting to another venue.  Dr Hunadi Mateme arrived after the meeting was supposed to have ended and not having been present at the previous deliberations.  The ANC members present then quickly went through the bill and voted to adopt it with an amendment.  Mr Smit said afterwards the DA would be writing to the head of the National Council of Provinces to protest the lack of due process at the meeting. He argued a number of procedural irregulaties he planned to raise - and hoped there would still be a proper deliberation.

On the positive side the meeting agreed to ban some extreme and degrading forms of pornography.

Please write to eprins@parliament.gov.za (Head of the Committee on Communications) and Ms Thandi Modise ljiyane@parliament.gov.za (Head of the NCOP) to request proper deliberation on the definitions of harm and hate speech in the Film & Publications Bill.

Philip Rosenthal


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