Cape Town - A panel is to be set up to find a way to stop racist remarks and hate speech making their way on to the websites of Independent News & Media, while striking a balance with the right to freedom of speech.
The company’s executive chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, says he is to establish the panel within 10 days and give it a month to report to him.
It is to include legal experts, members of civil society and a number of editors.
He is taking this step after the barrage of racist remarks posted on the website in response to a comment piece carried in the Cape Argus on August 15.
In the article “Black in Cape Town? Brace yourself”, South African teenager Kine Dineo Mokwena-Kessi speaks of her experiences as a black woman in Cape Town.
Describing her interactions with people of different races, she said she exercised caution in speaking to whites, but could relax in the company of blacks.
Among other things, readers commenting online told the 16-year-old to leave Cape Town, and that her article was “s***”.
Survé said he fully supported Mokwena-Kessi. She and other young people should feel free to express their views and would be allowed space on Independent’s products to do so.
He said that in setting up a panel, Independent wanted to take the lead in ensuring hate speech was not given space, while the right to freedom of speech was protected.
Survé saluted Mokwena-Kessi for her courage in having expressed herself in the way she did about her experiences in Cape Town, which he said continued to carry an apartheid legacy.
“I’m delighted that our titles give voice to young people to express their views.
“What I’m disappointed by is that when I look at the online commentary about this young woman, I think it’s unfair that someone brave enough to say the things (Mokwena-Kessi) said has to be subjected to such vitriol and abuse.
“I look at the comments – racist, aggressive, demeaning. It is easy for this young woman to feel betrayed – that she has given her trust to a newspaper in our group, we have published her article online, and she has no protection from the kind of abuse she had to endure.
“I can just imagine what she must be going through, having had the elation of her article being published in print – and the sadness of being subjected to such abuse.
“The truth is that the online community is not representative of South Africa.”
Mokwena-Kessi she had not expected “such a dramatic” response, but was grateful for the support offered.
“It is amazing to have support from such a powerful individual. It is quite encouraging. Of course I will be writing again,” she said.
She agreed with Survé that there was a fine line between freedom of speech and what constituted hate speech.
“I don’t know what the online editors can do about it, but they will have to find a way to filter comments put online.”