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Nzimande takes aim at the media over 'racist' web comments

Blade Nzimande delivered the keynote address at the Joe Slovo 20 Year Commemoration in Soweto.

South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande. Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG - South African Communist Party (SACP) General Secretary Blade Nzimande says media houses should be held responsible for racist and hate speech comments made by readers on their websites.

Nzimande delivered the keynote address at the Joe Slovo 20 Year Commemoration in Soweto yesterday but used most of his speech to slate the tripartite alliance's enemies and the state of South African Media.

The SACP leader says newspapers have tolerated comments online they would never consider publishing in their print editions and racism has been allowed to thrive.

Nzimande has argued that allowing people to respond directly to news articles online means media houses should be held accountable for what is said.

"In future, in fact, those media houses are going to be sued given what gets written there."

Freedom of Expression Institute chairman Professor Anton Harber says the media has tried to balance respecting the right to comment with suppressing hate speech.

"The media houses are constantly debating the right ways in which to manage comments but they do have to be careful not to limit the power of the internet to give ordinary citizens a voice."

Nzimande has called on the SACP to start an anti-racism and hate speech campaign and says "closet racists" are a threat to democracy.

The minister has called on the South African Human Rights Commission to monitor racist and hate speech comments, and to recommend the appropriate action.

The South African National Editors Forum chairman Mpumelelo Makhabela says the debate around hate speech online is important and an internal document is currently under discussion about how to improve the management of user participation online.

"We hope to convene a conference of all interested stake holders which we think will culminate into an ideal model of convergence of the way in which we regulate ourselves as the media."

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