State Security Minister David Mahlobo’s calls for government regulation of social media was slammed on Tuesday at the Insitute for the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism’s panel discussion on fake news.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga accused the minister of having sinister intentions behind his enthusiasm to have government regulate social media in a bid to combat fake news and social media ‘abuse’.
Speaking to journalists last week, Mahlobo said that in light of the recent bouts of widespread sharing of fake news among other issues ailing the media landscape, government was considering the regulation of social media.
On Tuesday Mathekga said that the while the concern of fake news was legitimate, it was preferable for the issue to be tackled by mainstream media and other bodies, rather than it being left to government and politicians.
He said Mahlobo might well be more concerned with the increased access of information in rural areas because of social media.
“His intentions are not good in any way and that is why I would rather leave the situation as it is. I’d rather have Sanef and other bodies, the press ombudsman work through to improve the quality of journalism and help our communities to make sure that when they report that information to ordinary people they can make up their minds. I’m not in favour of a nanny state,” he said, adding that an unregulated social media landscape flooded with fake news was preferable to one in which the state controlled it.
“Let us ensure general access to the media. The cost of leaving it as it is, for me we can live with that rather than regulating because if you are regulating you are going to affect access.”
Speaking at the event, secretary general of the South African National Editor’s Forum Katy Katopodis expressed concern that the widespread fear-mongering around fake news was that it, too may have a hidden political agenda.
“Every time something goes wrong, somebody in an attempt to distract or detract from the actual conversation about why we have got the potential of billions of people not getting their social grants at the beginning of April; let’s rather have a conversation about the media. Is it a purposeful attempt to distract,” she said.
Other panellists at the event pointed out the need for a more modernised form of training to protect journalists from the proliferation of fake news, including fact-checking tools and online security in the case of hacking incidences.