22 August 2017

South Africa: Sanef Welcomes Appeal of Ombud's Ruling Against Huffpost SA

The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) on Tuesday welcomed the appeal of a Press Ombudsman ruling against HuffPost SA, saying it was in the interest of media freedom and freedom of expression that the ruling was challenged.

"The appeal ruling is significant as it reaffirms the values of the Constitution when it comes to media freedom, and also clarifies the definition of what constitutes hate speech," the forum said in a statement.

"[The ruling] reinforces the need for, and desirability of, robust debate within the parameters laid out in the Constitution and reinforced by the press code."

On Tuesday morning, the appeals panel of the Press Council ruled that a controversial blog published by HuffPost SA in April, titled "Could it be time to deny white men the franchise", cannot be seen as discriminatory or classified as hate speech.

It overruled a previous ruling by Press Ombudsman Johan Retief who said the blog violated numerous sections of the press code and had "contributed to the erosion of public trust in the media".

The blog was written by "Shelley Garland", who described herself as an activist and feminist, completing an MA degree in philosophy.

It later emerged that Garland was a pseudonym that political science graduate Marius Roodt had used when writing the piece.

His actions were apparently motivated by a desire to highlight the state of journalism and editorial practices in the country.

HuffPost SA retracted the piece when they could not verify Garland's identity.

The Press Ombudsman did not make a ruling over the false identity of Garland, but whether the blog itself can be considered hate speech.

On April 22, Verashni Pillay resigned as editor of HuffPost SA following the ombudsman's findings. In their statement, Sanef said they welcomed Pillay's decision to challenge the ombudsman's findings.

"In the interests of media freedom and freedom of expression, it was imperative that the ombud's ruling on hate speech was challenged," Sanef said.

Source: News24

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