Former Huffington Post editor to challenge finding of blog hate speech
Appeal against the press ombudsman’s ruling on hate speech blog will be heard on Monday
The appeal against press ombudsman Johan Retief’s ruling that a blog calling for the disenfranchisement of white men amounted to hate speech is set to be heard on Monday.
The blog, written under the false name Shelley Garland, caused a furore, which led to Retief finding against Huffington Post SA and Verashni Pillay resigning as editor.
After publication it was established that the piece was penned by Marius Roodt, and that the online-only publication had failed to verify his identity.
Pillay has appealed against the entire judgment, including the rulings that the blog was discriminatory hate speech and the comment was not protected.
The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) joined the appeal as amicus curiae.
The bodies warn in heads of argument submitted to the Press Council’s appeals committee that by defining hate speech too broadly the ombudsman "formulated a test that is likely to stifle a multiplicity of voices that characterises a constitutional democracy in which openness and debate is fostered".
Sanef and MMA argue that hate speech had to be defined as narrowly as possible.
"Once speech is labelled hate speech it loses all constitutional protection and its value cannot be weighed against other rights and values," they say.
AfriForum is a respondent, stating that the blog amounts hate speech. Pillay argues in her appeal that the blog does not constitute hate speech.
MMA and Sanef agree that it does not amount to hate speech when read objectively by a reasonable reader.
The organisations argue that the tone of the piece is not inflammatory or aggressive, but rather faux academic. They say the reasonable reader would think the piece is either plain stupid, a spoof or a faux academic thought experiment.