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Patricia De Lille wants govt to regulate her very own words

The Independent Democrats’ (ID) Patricia De Lille has called on government to regulate blogs in South Africa. I did a second take at the ID’s statement, it seemed so bizarre and naive. I know Patricia. I met her some years back during an informal discussion just as the ID was being launched, and she came across as an intelligent person which makes this statement surprising. I’d strongly urge her to reconsider as it is making her party look silly.

I could also point out the irony that De Lille in fact herself blogged during the local government elections via the Mail & Guardian Online. Would she now want her own words regulated by the government? Sure — the election blog wasn’t a pure blog per se as De Lille was aided, but many editors and journalists are big bloggers these days, privately or via their publications. Should government now regulate blogs by the media?

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Part of the problem is also how do you define a blog? Is this something that wordpress or blogger.com does or does this include the publishing of all personal websites? How do you define a blog vs a personal website? They exhibit the same kind of content and publishing process, albeit just in different formats. I don’t think it’s De Lille’s intention to regulate website formats, so she must mean a type of personal online publishing that involves an individual? Therefore by this she could be effectively calling on government to regulate all personal websites and therefore all online opinion and debate from the people? This could also include opinion expressed on the ID’s very own website. I can’t believe that this is what the ID intended?

This is at the heart of the problem. The ID appears to misunderstand their own statement. It shows ignorance of the very well-known, long-debated issues around publishing and freedom of expression that are cornerstones of lawful democratic societies.

Even more bizarre is that De Lille’s call stems from a single incident where one of their councillors, Simon Grindrod, was defamed on a blog. Yes ladies and gentlemen, this call does not come from some major, intensive, rigorous research or trend that has found blogging to be a dangerous, negative force. It’s because the ID came across a single incident where one of their own councillors was allegedly defamed by a blogger, and now as a result they want government to regulate the whole blogosphere.

I would have expected a more nuanced and intelligent opinion coming from the leader of one of the country’s bigger political parties and it now makes me wonder about other issues they pronounce on. The ID has always been the most online-savvy political party in the country. They were one of the early pioneers using SMS and online to campaign and they have always had a strong online presence. Come on Patricia, you can do better than this!

Everyone agrees that the blogosphere is wild place. There are terrible blogs and there are horribly racist blogs, which I doubt see the light of day or make much impact or are read by people who matter. They also get challenged and put in their place. But then there are also intelligent, clever blogs — which I would think makes up the majority. Should the latter be regulated? If we look internationally — do any governments of major countries with a free media and free speech regulate blogging? Name one and I’ll retract this blog post.

Also, why can’t normal laws apply? If a blogger defames you, sue him or her. There was an incident with Jo’blog recently where defamation was alleged, the post was taken down and the parties reached an agreement. If you do not know who the blogger is this can be investigated and traced. If you cannot trace the individual, at best you can always get a take-down notice issued via the hosting provider or the blog platform provider (if there is one). Of course if the blog is hosted overseas it makes thing more complicated — but you can still achieve a result against a blog that is unlawful. You could always reply to the offending blogger and show him or her up. Or otherwise you could just ignore the offensive statements, especially if the blogger has no authority.

Oh and lastly, just thought I’d point out the obvious. This is a blog. And I’d prefer it if the government didn’t have a role to play in how or what I publish. Thank you.

Some good posts I’ve read on this issue:
Wired Gecko
Dave Duarte
Jonathan Carter
Pickled Bushman
Vincent Maher

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