Harvey Tyson, Former Editor of the Star, Responds to the Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill

01 Mar 2017
Harvey Tyson, Former Editor of the Star, Responds to the Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill

PEN SA made comments on the Hate Speech and Hate Crimes Bill, which you can read here, and invited PEN SA members to send us their own comments on the bill. Below is a submission by Harvey Tyson, the former editor of The Star and author of On My Watch and Blood on the Path – Saga of the Founding of SA 100 Years Ago.

Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill

While welcoming a Bill that seeks to discourage all forms of hate speech – particularly the unfettered and often ill-considered exchanges on the social media – it is essential that PEN SA’s reminder is heeded: freedom of expression and freedom of the media come first.

This draft ‘Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill’ directly threatens both principles of democratic freedom and so conflicts with the Constitution. The Draft Bill, therefore should be withdrawn and totally redrafted after law advisers have studied the supporting expert opinions available on this subject.

Even outside observers of this field can identify a monster when they see one, and the current draft bill is monstrous. It harbours the same hulk that many of us instantly spotted in countless Bills drafted in South Africa’s ugly past by the apartheid government and foisted on the nation. In those days the heavy drafting of anti-democratic law was done with evil intent. Here it is done by sloppy over-reacting and dangerous overkill.

The Bill seems even to identify unspecified physical gestures as crimes of hate speech. Yet hate speech is civil or civic misbehaviour, not a crime punishable by a prison sentence. For instance: when some-one gives “two-fingers” to a passing procession of presidential escort- cars, he or she is not per se a criminal as this draft Bill seems to propose.

And even if this example is an exaggerated one, so is the Bill. It is as useless for its purpose, as is a sledge-hammer used for trying to kill a mosquito. To combat hate speech, and to avoid smashing our carefully built democratic home, we need a more skilful tool.