The Independent Democrats’ (ID) Patricia De Lille has called on government to regulate blogs in South Africa. I did a second take at the ID’s statement, it seemed so bizarre and naive. I know Patricia. I met her some years back during an informal discussion just as the ID was being launched, and she came across as an intelligent person which makes this statement surprising. I’d strongly urge her to reconsider as it is making her party look silly.

I could also point out the irony that De Lille in fact herself blogged during the local government elections via the Mail & Guardian Online. Would she now want her own words regulated by the government? Sure — the election blog wasn’t a pure blog per se as De Lille was aided, but many editors and journalists are big bloggers these days, privately or via their publications. Should government now regulate blogs by the media?

Part of the problem is also how do you define a blog? Is this something that wordpress or blogger.com does or does this include the publishing of all personal websites? How do you define a blog vs a personal website? They exhibit the same kind of content and publishing process, albeit just in different formats. I don’t think it’s De Lille’s intention to regulate website formats, so she must mean a type of personal online publishing that involves an individual? Therefore by this she could be effectively calling on government to regulate all personal websites and therefore all online opinion and debate from the people? This could also include opinion expressed on the ID’s very own website. I can’t believe that this is what the ID intended?

This is at the heart of the problem. The ID appears to misunderstand their own statement. It shows ignorance of the very well-known, long-debated issues around publishing and freedom of expression that are cornerstones of lawful democratic societies.

Even more bizarre is that De Lille’s call stems from a single incident where one of their councillors, Simon Grindrod, was defamed on a blog. Yes ladies and gentlemen, this call does not come from some major, intensive, rigorous research or trend that has found blogging to be a dangerous, negative force. It’s because the ID came across a single incident where one of their own councillors was allegedly defamed by a blogger, and now as a result they want government to regulate the whole blogosphere.

I would have expected a more nuanced and intelligent opinion coming from the leader of one of the country’s bigger political parties and it now makes me wonder about other issues they pronounce on. The ID has always been the most online-savvy political party in the country. They were one of the early pioneers using SMS and online to campaign and they have always had a strong online presence. Come on Patricia, you can do better than this!

Everyone agrees that the blogosphere is wild place. There are terrible blogs and there are horribly racist blogs, which I doubt see the light of day or make much impact or are read by people who matter. They also get challenged and put in their place. But then there are also intelligent, clever blogs — which I would think makes up the majority. Should the latter be regulated? If we look internationally — do any governments of major countries with a free media and free speech regulate blogging? Name one and I’ll retract this blog post.

Also, why can’t normal laws apply? If a blogger defames you, sue him or her. There was an incident with Jo’blog recently where defamation was alleged, the post was taken down and the parties reached an agreement. If you do not know who the blogger is this can be investigated and traced. If you cannot trace the individual, at best you can always get a take-down notice issued via the hosting provider or the blog platform provider (if there is one). Of course if the blog is hosted overseas it makes thing more complicated — but you can still achieve a result against a blog that is unlawful. You could always reply to the offending blogger and show him or her up. Or otherwise you could just ignore the offensive statements, especially if the blogger has no authority.

Oh and lastly, just thought I’d point out the obvious. This is a blog. And I’d prefer it if the government didn’t have a role to play in how or what I publish. Thank you.

Some good posts I’ve read on this issue:
Wired Gecko
Dave Duarte
Jonathan Carter
Pickled Bushman
Vincent Maher

20 Responses to “Patricia De Lille wants govt to regulate her very own words”
  1. Yep – and then you should decide if you want to keep giving publicity to an ignorant, populistic and opportunistic politician…

  2. The guy behind the SA Male Prostitute blog can be found by googling [ NAME REMOVED ]

    He is known for making up lies and have a very troubled past.

    He lives on the publicity and you should decide if you want to keep giving him what he want

  3. Cheap shot Matt – playing at the person, not the ball, missing the point.

    But then, next week M & G might be rubbing shoulders with ‘some’ politician again – it’s called self-regulation, rather than transparency…

  4. Sjefke – thanks for the lesson on transparency. if you are so desperate to see this blog (which I haven’t seen) go and find it for yourself. But it’s not going to be on my blog, buddy.

  5. For complete transparency, and being to able to validate De Lille’s call for action and censorship, we, the people should be able to read the original posting – although I haven’t read all blogs about this case, nowhere was a link to be found – not even a ‘garbled’ up one – so, how many of the bloggers and commenters actually read it in the first place?

    I trust myself, my judgements and my brain – I don’t want to rely on politicians, teachers, clergymen or any other person or institute that knows what is good for me – which is why I asked for that link and which Henk provided – thanks for saving me the surfing effort, Henk!

    By removing the link, you indirectly knee-jerk for De Lille’s demands – she’s allowed to vent her anger and ridiculous proposals, she gets all attention, but you do not display the pathetic blog it all started with – actually showing the world what fool she is making of herself by taking such an easily fabricated and anonymous posting seriously – as I pointed out in my comment yesterday.

    Transparency is being able to learn both sides – not hiding one side and telling me it is bad – ignorants parents do so, telling their kids sex is dirty – which makes the kids going for it even more.
    I don’t like to be treated like a kid, nor do most adult people around here.

    Apparently, we have different shades of transparency in mind.

  6. Hi Sjefke

    I’m sorry you are disappointed. Yes, I did remove the link. And it wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. In an effort to ensure transparency, I made it clear that the link was removed. The reason is that I don’t want to play any part in promoting the blog in question by linking to it via my own blog, even if its via comments posted by others. I don’t entirely understand what your comment re: De Lille has got to do with this action.

    I’ll continue to defend the principle of freedom of speech and the fact that it is unrealistic, unnecessary and wrong that govt has a regulatory role in the blogosphere.

    Thanks for your comments

  7. Matthew,

    Did you remove the link in Henk’s post? If so, why?
    Are you knee-jerking now???? If you don’t want to link to content like that, then remove the HTML url-code (a href etc.) or put spaces in, so that people can still re-construct it – now De Lille got you exactly where she wanted us to be in the first place – very disappointing….

  8. Matthew,

    Did you remove the link in Henk’s post? If so, why?
    Are you knee-jerking now???? If you don’t want to link to content like that, then remove the HTML code (

  9. @ Henk – thanks for the link! What a non-event – some adolescent writing – just like a script kiddy trying to get global ‘fame’ – and of course, there was an ignorant, vigilant politician to pick up on it…. zzzzzzz

    I too saw Simon (but he wanted me to call him ‘Rod’…) in his birth-day suit. On his right butt-cheeck he has a heartshape tattoo with ‘Herman’ in it. I swear you it is true – just have Simon show his butt on national television to prove me wrong!

  10. […] Good on Patricia De Lille and the ID. This is democracy in action. De Lille most likely noticed comments on the blogosphere and the reports in the media about her initial call for government to regulate the blogs. The result is that she has swiftly issued another statement clarifying her position. […]

  11. Well, here’s the post that started the kneejerk reaction:

    [LINK REMOVED]

    I first thought it might be a parody (and said so on Cape Talk), but a strong reaction such as De Lille’s seems to give the accusation weight.

    To ramble a bit legally: In the US, it would only be considered libel if it were false. In South Africa, in order to defend a libel case, you need to prove that your statements were both true AND in the public interest.

    It also looks like ‘SA Male Prostitute’ is trying to blackmail old clients, by threatening to post info on them.

    I hope to see this guy in jail, and I’m sure he’ll be discovered soon enough.

    It’d be a shame if a professional ‘wanker’ (literally) could lay the foundations for the destruction of free speech.

  12. @ Uno: “Damn that populism. ”

    I wished she got enough votes from those ‘scared parents’ – hoping she could pass legislation based on populism and hypocrisy (which in itself is nothing new, of course).

    She will be watched. And monitored. And slaughtered online – not only because she made false claims (by pretending she could curb free speech with those laws), but also because she has no clue about new media and the web – as, instantly new means and forms will emerge. Internationally exposing her as the new African charlatan, following in the footsteps of her sister beetroot-minister.

    Her voters will feel betrayed (again, what’s new here?) as she falls in her own sword.

    Personally I feel she will never be that naive – she is, all in all, an experienced politician – just this emotional trial-balloon doesn’t mean she has a new cause.

    @ Matt: good post, very ‘academic’.

    Has anyone actually read the defamatory blog: I understood it was a comment of an anonymous poster? I didn’t see it anywhere, so it’s a bit hard to judge (as I can imagine there are things you don’t want to see online – racism, wild accusations – we all agree we don’t need that) – but then, it’s just the real world – only virtually.

  13. The current draft Films and Publications Act is already taking potshots at bloggers.

    What worries me more about De Lille’s comments is her suggestion that freedom of speech should not be considered an absolute.

    Who exactly does she think should be put in charge of free speech? I wouldn’t trust anyone with that responsibility.

  14. yeah Uno — they should have got an opinion from an expert before they pronounced on an issue they clearly do not really understand.

  15. Twylite — I read your post and I’m aware of the history of this issue. Don’t think I mention the word censorship anywhere in my blog post — it’s you who has used this word.

    I think it’s a little naive of you to intimate that regulation of the blogosphere would be harmless. But let me say that I also think it’s equally hysterical to say that regulation would equal censorship.

    My point is that I don’t think the blogosphere needs extra laws to regulate it, any more than the media does. There are laws and mechanisms that deal with this already.

    My other point was that the ID is calling for regulation of an entire industry based on their one bad experience. A little over the top don’t you think?

    Lastly, why do you think it is that other democratic countries — with hundreds of millions more blogs than here — do not find it necessary to regulate their bloggers?

  16. Well said Matt,
    In my post I wanted to allude to the political opportunism I see bubbling up.
    Patricia sees all this internet stuff as one phenomenon: blogging, mxit etc. She’s trying to tie in with parents who see Mxit as a huge threat and I believe she’s trying to ride on that fear. So the ID then got wind of this whole blogging thing and tried to blast it with one shot.

    The voting constituency isn’t on the internet, kids with Mxit don’t vote, their scared parents do. Damn that populism.

  17. Please read the history. A blogger made defamatory statements about an ID councillor. They have laid a charge with the police, but there appears to be a problem in determining the blogger’s real identity. De Lille has thus called for regulation so that such people can be held accountable for their actions.

    Regulation is not necessarily censorship. That is one form of regulation, and there are alternatives. Read the post on my blog for a more detailed discussion.

  18. This is very insightful. Thanks Matthew.

  19. Thanks for the link Matt!

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