By PEN SA President Nadia Davids
PEN SA is excited and proud to unveil FX IN SA: A Review of Freedom Of Expression In South Africa, 2016, the first of its kind in South Africa. This document, with its fine-grained research, detailed findings and clarion call that Freedom of Speech be upheld and respected, represents both the important work of our organisation and our allegiance to its central principal.
In it, we offer an overview of the key difficulties, challenges, limitations and possibilities around Free Speech in South Africa in 2016. We draw on language both legal and ethical to describe a post-censorship society in which debate around Free Speech is robust even when it is difficult, where self-expression is encouraged but hate-speech is not, and where a discussion of what constitutes either is given a public platform, even when those platforms are under governmental threat.
We touch of a range of examples, from the contentious discussion around the UCT’s Flemming Rose lecture to attempts to regulate black girls’ hair in our schooling systems, from Penny Sparrow’s racist tweets to SABC’s failure to screen public protests. We lay out the ten principals of free speech and examine what constitutes causing offence, we chart the instances in which free speech tips into violence, how the parameters of hate speech or dangerous speech are defined, and when the Assassin’s veto can be instrumentalised to frighten and silence.
PEN SA intends to publish one such report every year as part of our commitment to ensuring that Free Speech continues unhindered and unabated in South Africa.
Though national in its focus, the report is global in its reach: the 1948 PEN International charter, written in the ashes of a world war, declares a commitment to the inalienable right of all people to enjoy and exercise Freedom of Speech and is concerned with ensuring that our global community of writers remain uncurbed and unencumbered by ‘arbitrary censorship’. It insists too on fostering tolerance and mutual respect among nations and remaining vigilantly opposed to “mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortion of facts for political and personal ends”. These are enduring principals that find common cause with many of the most important political battles in South Africa today and our FX document reflects on all this and more.
We are pleased to make this substantive report freely available to the public so that it can be used across a broad spectrum of society: by ordinary citizens, members of the press and as a research aide for students of law and journalism.
The report was written by Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, PEN SA Board Member.
Read the report: FX IN SA – A Review of Freedom Of Expression In South Africa, 2016
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