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Doxing: Dangerous for democracy

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) condemns the ‘doxing’ of Radio 702 and ENCA Talk Show Host and journalist Karima Brown as well as the threats and abuse that followed. Doxing is the act of revealing identifying information about someone online — their real name, address, workplace, phone number, or other identifying information and the subsequent harassment and attacks as a result of the information being revealed.

MMA welcomes and endorses the statement published by the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and we stand ready to support them in possible action against those responsible, and we reiterate our commitment to supporting journalists in this crucial election period.

The threats and vile comments that have been levelled against Ms Brown are repugnant and must be condemned in the strongest terms for two core reasons, firstly because they are abusive, threaten violence and some also constitute hate speech. These actions have real consequences and we call on all relevant authorities to act urgently to hold those responsible accountable.  Secondly, such actions when targeted at journalists also constitute an intention to silence and censor and thus also undermine our democracy.

It is important to stress that there is a fundamental difference between disagreeing, even stridently with another person, and abusing, threatening or directing hate speech at them. We have one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and it is one we should all be proud of.  Our Bill of Rights enshrines not just the right to freedom of expression but it also highlights and foregrounds the rights to dignity and equality. It is tragic that it is necessary to state that threats of rape, incitement to violence and racist rhetoric undermine the foundational values and rights contained within our constitution. Aside from the rights violations there is also the matter of personal hurt and offence. On top of that there is the real possibility that such threats may escalate to physical violence against not just Ms Brown and her loved ones but also to all journalists who may be seen to be standing up for Ms Browns rights. That these attacks also have a clear gender dynamic and, in a country with a near epidemic of gender based violence this makes them even more offensive and threatening.

As a media watchdog, we take on a role promoting ethical and fair journalism which supports human rights. We promote democracy and a culture where the media and the powerful respect those rights to encourage a just and fair society. We take this role very seriously and will stand against those who attempt to threaten this. It is an unacceptable reality for women all over the world that they are more likely to be the target of abuse online. From doxing to revenge ‘porn’, from rape and death threats to hacking or trolling, women on the internet are being attacked and threatened at unprecedented rates. Even when they have hard evidence, such as in the case of Babes Wodumo, they are questioned and blamed.

With the expanding power of social media and as we approach elections in an increasingly volatile political environment, we call on all political parties to not only condemn such actions, but also to proactively commit to actions and speech that seek to discourage violence and de-escalate tensions.

MMA therefore calls on the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate any possible instances and allegations of hate speech and/or incitement of violence, and to work with all other authorities in ensuring that justice is achieved.

We also call on the Independent Electoral Commission to urgently investigate the threats and exercise the powers granted to them in the election period to hold those responsible accountable.  As we approach elections it is critical that tensions are de-escalated and it is essential that all stakeholders play their part in ensuring that violence is prevented, that journalist can do their jobs without fear or favour and that political parties act in line with the tenets of our constitution. It is after all our Constitution that gives them their power and any action that undermines the constitution ultimately undermines them as well.

For additional information, please contact:

William Bird

+27828871370 / williamb@mma.org.za