DA launches campaign against Covid-19 fake news, calls on minister to act
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CAPE TOWN - The DA on Monday accused communications minister Stella Ndabeni Abrahams of failing to act against purveyors of fake news on the coronavirus pandemic, and said it was stepping into the breach to report those guilty of what is now a criminal offence.
"The Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is asleep at the wheel while dangerous and life-threatening fake news and disinformation about COVID-19 run rampant," DA MP Phumzile van Damme said.
She said the DA would therefore be using its resources and reach to "identify, correct and report fake news as well as educate the public about it".
"We will be launching a campaign to educate the public about what disinformation and fake news is, how to identify it, report it and where to find the correct information about Covid-19."
Van Damme urged the South African media to be vigilant and not to publish fake news.
"Extra steps to verify information before it is published is an absolute necessity while not only South Africa but the world is dealing with a global pandemic that has killed almost 70,000 people," Van Damme said.
"The DA reminds the public that while the country is faced with a momentous battle against COVID-19, disinformation and fake news carries a jail sentence or a fine."
In terms of the disaster management regulations promulgated as a part of the government's response to the global pandemic, it is a crime punishable with up to six months in prison to publish on any platform, false information with the intention to deceive people about Covid-19 or the government's measures to contain it.
Earlier on Monday, the DA's spokeswoman on health laid criminal charges against a man for disseminating a video in which he claims that South Africans risked being infected with Covid-19 by health care officials testing people for the virus.
Siviwe Gwarube said the video posted on Facebook by a man living in a Cape Town suburb was fell within the ambit of the regulations because it met the test of intention.
"Laying these criminal charges is meant to send a strong message to South Africans that the spreading of fake news will not be tolerated," she added.
The author of the video claims that test swabs used by health care officials conducting door-to-door testing are possibly contaminated with the novel coronavirus and urges South Africans to refuse to be tested.
Gwarube said the video was widely shared on Sunday and caused panic on the eve of the roll-out of the government's mass community screening project. It was therefore crucial to act to prevent it from undermining a part of the government's efforts to contain the spread of the disease.
"The department of health needs to reach people where they are in order to screen them and refer them to the nearest health facility for full testing. It is not true that the community health workers will use swabs or draw blood. Their work is to screen those South Africans who may be showing symptoms and to bring the services closer to where they are," she said.
Furthermore, mass screening is also meant to determine whether people's conditions allow them to self-isolate or whether they need to be isolated in government facilities.
"This will assist those South Africans who live in densely populated informal settlements and cannot afford to self-isolate and protect their loved ones from further spread.
"Turning people against this measure is destructive and criminal.... It is important that the South African Police Service investigate this matter without delay."