The Huffington Hoax: freedom of expression, hate speech and the media

UPDATE 22 August 2017

The Press Council Appeals Panel hasĀ overturned the Press Ombudsman’s hate speech ruling, citing some of the arguments I presented on eNCA, on 24 April.

UPDATE 25 April 2017

Following massive public debate on the appropriateness of the Press Ombudsman’s hate speech ruling because of its apparent overreach in terms of the Press Code, the Equality Act and the constitutional limitations on freedom of expression, Executive Director of the Press Council, Joe Thloloe, has appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council’s Appeal Panel.

This evening, I participated in a live panel debate on e-News Channel Africa (eNCA). The debate sought to unpack Huffington Post South Africa’s embroilment in a controversy concerning the strength of editorial controls in the news outlet, after it published a hoax opinion piece submitted by a contributor, Marius Roodt, who had intentionally misrepresented himself under the pseudonym Shelley Garland.

The controversy resulted in a finding by the Press Ombudsman, Johan Retief, that the piece and the editorial staff’s publication of it constituted hate speech, and was soon followed by the resignation of the editor in chief, Verashni Pillay.

Here I discuss why neither the piece nor the conduct of the editorial staff did not constitute hate speech under South Africa’s statutory and constitutional framework, although its publication exposed glaring failures in editorial oversight of content at the outlet.

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