Journalists should challenge EFF ideas, not try to silence them

Staff Writer | Aug 15, 2019
The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has cautioned that freedom of speech is arguably the most cherished of freedoms and one that must not be wantonly eroded by the very groups who depend on its protection to thrive.

The IRR’s warning comes after newspaper editors in South Africa turned to the courts to silence the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a fringe political party, which, the editors maintained, was creating a toxic and dangerous working environment for journalists.

EFF leaders have directed crude and provocative comment at journalists in an attempt to silence their criticism.

While the IRR agreed that some of the criticism directed at journalists was vile, racist, and sexist and would have had the effect of making the targeted journalists feel apprehensive, the groups and individuals so affected needed to be very careful in the precedents they set. Regardless of what the Constitution prescribed, the IRR maintained that it was dangerous to encourage a position where even offensive and racist speech was sanctioned. Rather, short of the likelihood that speech will incite imminent physical harm, all speech should be protected.

According to the IRR, journalists and commentators possess the most influential platforms in the country and they need to learn to use those platforms to win arguments against populist incitement rather than turning to the courts in what comes down to an attempt at censorship.

The risk of allowing overt censorship into our society was that there was no telling what precedent might be set. In the long run, it would be much more dangerous if some speech was suppressed than if crude and racist speech occurred.

The IRR said having absolute freedom to express ideas was a necessary condition for South Africans to challenge bad policy and weak political leadership. Journalists and media commentators, the IRR maintained, should therefore be at the forefront of defending the principle of freedom of speech.

 

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