The debate about the impact the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill will have on the media has already begun.
The deadline for public comments on the bill closed on Tuesday.
The Bill is intended to curb the use of hate speech and any other form of hate crime, and is believed to have been prompted by the public outbursts seen on social media made by the likes of Penny Sparrow, Judge Mabel Jansen.
While the Bill sets clear that any person who “incites, instigates, promotes, or encourages others to commit a hate crime” be found guilty of an offence.
There is a clause in the Bill that criminalises the distribution of hate speech via electronic communication stating that making it accessible to the public could constitute as a crime.
The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) believes that this could affect the work of journalists and create censorship.
“Our concern is not that journalists who reproduce Sparrow-type comments in an article could go to jail but that this could lead to self-censorship. The law deters behaviour, journalists and the media will self-censor further than they already do,” says Gwen Ngwenya, Chief Operating Officer at the SAIRR.
In their submission, the IRR says provisions within the Bill are wide enough to cover cartoons as well as journalists who electronically distribute cartoons or comments that could constitute as hate speech, even though they are not the authors and their aim is to inform the public.
A survey by the IRR revealed that race relations in South Africa had improved.
Their statistics showed that 4.2% of South Africans highlighted racism as a serious and unresolved issue but said they have not experienced an incident of racism in the last year.
“We believe the Bill could add to the continued discussion, rhetoric and hype around racial divisions which the data does not support,” she adds.
However, Joe Thloloe, Director in the Press Council believes the Bill will not have a direct impact on journalists.
“If a journalist quotes someone like the Facebook post by Sparrow, it will not be seen as an offence,” he says. “It will become an offence if you just do it as an initiator of that particular message.”
Thloloe says in their submissions, they requested that the defence of public interest should be taken into consideration and that publications that subscribe to the press code should also be exempt.