There’s a lot of talk about this proposed media tribunal and, as you might expect, journalists are getting their knickers in a knot about the whole thing and claiming that this could be the end of freedom of speech as we know it today. And I suppose it could if you have a vivid enough imagination. Obviously the ANC are going to have to control the internet as well though and that’s when the whole idea of a media tribunal looks a little shaky.
It’s one thing to kick in the doors of a newspaper and demand to see the journalist who wrote the story about a politician and a goat. It’s something else entirely to wade through all the stuff on the internet in search of politician and goat stories. And even if you do find one and are horrified can you be absolutely sure who wrote it? And even if you can find out who wrote these dreadful slurs on the goat’s character, can you do anything about it? If the website is domiciled overseas, as many South African sites are, then what jurisdiction do you have over that site? And suppose the journalist muckraker is sitting in another country and writing this sort of stuff. What on earth can you do about it other than shut down the entire internet? That’s the sort of thing you can get away with in Iran but can you imagine the international outcry if the South African government suddenly decided to unplug the internet here?
So the only people who need to fear a media tribunal are the print journalists it seems. But since newspapers are dying all over the world why should that be a problem? Within a few years only those who can’t afford a laptop, kindle or iPad will be buying newspapers and, as we know, they have no spending power. That means advertising will dwindle even more and the only way a newspaper will be able to survive will either be thanks to a generous benefactor or with tax payer’s money. Since that’s happening already (any government advertising you see in a newspaper is paid for by tax payers) what’s the difference?
All of which means that the members of a media tribunal are going to find themselves with nothing to do. All the really juicy stuff about corrupt and fornicating politicians will be flying around the world in nanoseconds on the internet. The stories will be e-mailed and forwarded and the negative impact will be far greater. Because, you see, there are very few rules or test cases on the internet and that’s why it’s a fertile breeding ground for untruths and defamatory comments. I can’t see a government that can’t even deliver on its election promises getting to grips with quashing “negative” stories circulating on the internet. Not even a sophisticated country with advanced technology like the US can stop Wikileaks before it does any damage.
So that’s why I am not remotely concerned about a media tribunal affecting our collective freedom of speech. It’s just been something that’s been invented to put the wind up the dinosaurs of the print media. And, judging by the knee jerk panic, it certainly seems to have spooked them.