Panel advises that comments be moderated pre-publication - Independent Media

Report says that if this cannot be undertaken, the group should consider closing its comments section

Independent Media release Advisory Panel Report on Online Hate Speech

24 February 2015

Dr Iqbal Survé, Executive Chairman of Independent Media (Pty) Ltd (Independent) today received the report from the Advisory Panel on User-Generated Content on Independent Media online platforms. 

Commenting on the advisory panel and the report Dr Survé said, "The establishment of the panel was a pioneering initiative by Independent in the local media industry. The advent of technology and new media has redefined the way we have to look at and monitor weighty issues in our society such as freedom of speech and the balancing of various rights, such as the right to speak our minds vis-à-vis protection from hate speech.

It is a fact that we all have to contend with the challenges which confront us in the online space. I'm therefore confident that this report sets the bar for our media industry and will go some way to providing thought leadership on this issue." 

In September 2014, Dr Survé announced the formation of an Advisory Panel of experts, to investigate matters of public concern arising out of hate speech, personal attacks and defamatory statements contained in comments by the public published on Independent online sites.

The scope of the Advisory Panel was to enquire into the prevalence of, make findings, report on and make recommendations concerning hate speech, personal attacks and defamatory statements contained in comments made by the public. Due to the complexity of the task, the Advisory Panel requested and were granted an extension on the initial deadline of 31 October 2014. 

The six experts comprising the panel were - media attorney, Jacques Louw; who was also appointed as Chairperson;  Latiefa Mobara, Public Advocate at the Press Council; political analyst, lecturer and columnist, Eusebius McKaiser; media attorney,  Dario Milo; Karima Brown and Anthony Robinson, Group Executive Editor and Chief Technology Officers respectively at Independent. Abigail Oliver, Independent's Legal Counsel, served as the secretariat for the panel.

The main findings and recommendations of the Advisory Panel are as follows:

In the interests of freedom of expression, it is desirable to host online comments

However, the constitutional rights of readers and members of the public should not be infringed by such comments

It would be preferable to moderate comments prior to their publication online

Online platforms should be staffed with suitably qualified personnel  

If effective pre-moderation cannot be undertaken for any particular reason, Independent should consider closing its comments section

Independent Media should develop guidelines to define unacceptable speech, which take into account legal and ethical considerations, but should not amount to censorship of differing viewpoints

In handing over the report, Jacques Louw indicated that the Advisory Panel had to cope with time and resource constraints but had rigorously engaged with the issues, and were satisfied with the outcome.

"The debates on the panel were invigorating and demonstrated how seriously everybody took this task. It is up to Independent to take this further and the report definitely provides a sound basis from which to move forward. We view this is as the beginning of a conversation and are hopeful that it will serve as a catalyst to further engagement in the industry."

Dr Survé thanked the panellists and all involved.

"My gratitude to Jacques Louw, for chairing the panel, all the panellists and those membesr of the public who took the time to contribute. I know that the report has taken longer than originally stipulated, but we wanted to ensure that the report effectively represented the process that unfolded once the panel began their work.

As this report is in the public interest, we shall be making it available to the public, including other media houses, civil society organisations and the public sector. It shall also be available on our online platforms, including our website. With my management team, I shall be studying the recommendations and will advise on our approach and implementation, which should be holistic, in the next while."

Full report available here

Statement issued by Zenariah Barends, Chief of Staff, Independent Media, February 24 2015

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