So­cial net­works are use­ful plat­forms

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Ut­loang Ka­jeno

THE Con­sti­tu­tion of Le­sotho, 1993, pro­vides un­der sec­tion 14(1): “Ev­ery per­son shall be en­ti­tled to, and (ex­cept with his own con­sent) shall not be hin­dered in his en­joy­ment of, free­dom of ex­pres­sion, in­clud­ing free­dom to hold opin­ions with­out in­ter­fer­ence, free­dom to re­ceive ideas and in­for­ma­tion with­out in­ter­fer­ence (whether the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be to the public gen­er­ally or to any per­son or class of per­sons) and free­dom from in­ter­fer­ence with his cor­re­spon­dence”.

How­ever, this free­dom is not ab­so­lute as the Con­sti­tu­tion fur­ther pro­vides un­der sec­tion 14(2) (a) and (b) that: “Noth­ing con­tained in or done un­der the au­thor­ity of any law shall be held to be in­con­sis­tent with or in con­tra­ven­tion of this sec­tion to the ex­tent that the law in ques­tion makes pro­vi­sion — (a) in the in­ter­ests of de­fence, public safety, public or­der, public moral­ity or public health; or (b) for the pur­pose of pro­tect­ing the rep­u­ta­tions, rights and free­doms of other per­son or the pri­vate lives of per­sons con­cerned in le­gal pro­ceed­ings, pre­vent­ing the dis­clo­sure of in­for­ma­tion re­ceived in con­fi­dence, …”.

Fur­ther, sub­sec­tion (4) pro­vides; “Any per­son who feels ag­grieved by state­ments or ideas dis­sem­i­nated to the public in gen­eral by a medium of com­mu­ni­ca­tion has the right to re­ply or to re­quire a cor­rec­tion to be made us­ing the same medium, un­der such con­di­tions as the law may es­tab­lish”.

Free­dom of ex­pres­sion is fur­ther cir­cum­scribed in the Pe­nal Code Act, 2010 by the var­i­ous sec­tions most no­tably, un­der trea­son, fail­ure to pre­vent or re­port trea­son­able con­duct, sedi­tion, ex­pres­sion of ha­tred or con­tempt, of­fences against the Royal Fam­ily, breach of the peace.

Pro­vok­ing public vi­o­lence, ob­struc­tion of the course of jus­tice and of­fi­cially con­sti­tuted public en­quiries, dis­re­spect for ju­di­cial pro­ceed­ings, def­i­ni­tion of pub­li­ca­tion, def­i­ni­tion of un­law­ful pub­li­ca­tion and defama­tion, which are all crim­i­nal con­duct and in­vite var­i­ous crim­i­nal sanc­tions.

Un­der Pri­vate Law, as op­posed to public law, the for­mer be­ing a body of rules and statutes gov­ern­ing re­la­tions be­tween pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als, free­dom of ex­pres­sion is cir­cum­scribed by the law of defama­tion.

Briefly, defama­tion is de­fined as the pub­li­ca­tion of a state­ment about a per­son that tends to lower his rep­u­ta­tion in the opin­ion of right-think­ing mem­bers of the com­mu­nity or to make them shun or avoid him. How­ever, there are var­i­ous de­fences that may be raised in defama­tion cases for pur­poses of this ar­ti­cle. There are but not lim­ited to: de­nial of the pub­li­ca­tion of the words com­plained of, de­nial of their ref­er­ence to the plain­tiff, de­nial of any dam­age or any con­nec­tion be­tween the defama­tion and the dam­age, al­le­ga­tion that the words were ut­tered un­der provo­ca­tion or in jest, al­le­ga­tion of ab­so­lute priv­i­lege, al­le­ga­tion of fair and bona fide com­ment on a mat­ter of public in­ter­est pub­lished with­out mal­ice and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion by truth in the public in­ter­est.

In the Books of the Old Tes­ta­ment, Isa­iah 62:6-7 free­dom of ex­pres­sion also has Im­pec­ca­ble Source of its ori­gins wherein it is said: “I have posted watch­men on your walls, Jeru- salem; they will never be silent day or night.

"You who call on the Lord, give your­selves no rest, and give him no rest till he es­tab­lishes Jerusalem and make her the praise of the earth”.

I am quot­ing ex­ten­sively from the Con­sti­tu­tion and the other branches of the law and in­deed the Holy Bi­ble, in in­ter­ro­gat­ing the fun­da­men­tal free­doms of ex­pres­sion and in­for­ma­tion as en­shrined in our law and other in­ter­na­tional covenants and free­doms be­cause pro­po­nents of these free­doms who use the so­cial net­work plat­forms er­ro­neously think they are ab­so­lute, on ei­ther side of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum and be­cause scep­tics, mainly the gov­ern­ment, also have an er­ro­neous per­cep­tion that they can cur­tail these free­doms if and when they like.

Both these views are to­tally wrong if car­ried to their log­i­cal con­clu­sions. Sub­scribers to so­cial media net­work sites on the one hand, seem to think, be­cause they mostly use fake ac­counts and pseu­do­nyms, they can pub­lish or dis­sem­i­nate what­ever in­for­ma­tion or ut­ter­ances with­out any hin­drance or le­gal pa­ram­e­ters. The gov­ern­ment on the other hand, through its spin doc­tors, has a flawed view that it can just shut-down so­cial net­works as if they were putting-off a light in a room. Both these views are to­tally un­ac­cept­able and in law, friv­o­lous and vex­a­tions.

For gov­ern­ment to threaten that it will close cer­tain so­cial net­works be­cause they do not sub­scribe to its poli­cies would be un­con­sti­tu­tional as it can be chal­lenged suc­cess­fully in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court. It can­not, with­out any law­ful jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, willy-nilly deny these sub­scribers their con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed rights of free­doms of ex­pres­sion and to dis­sem­i­nate and re­ceive in­for­ma­ is even more dis­con­cert­ing when the gov­ern­ment threat­ens to un­mask or act in con­cert with li­censed ser­vice providers to iden­tify who those fake

sub­scribers are in or­der to pros­e­cute them. This would be illegal with­out a law­ful court or­der. No per­son, in­sti­tu­tion or gov­ern­ment is en­ti­tled to take the law into their own hands. Le­sotho is a sov­er­eign demo­cratic King­dom gov­erned by the rule of law else this would be also a clear case of vi­o­la­tion of the right to re­spect for pri­vate life, as en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion. Fur­ther­more, does the gov­ern­ment have the re­sources, tech­ni­cal, fi­nan­cial or hu­man, to block these so­cial net­work­ing sites. The costs that come along with any clo­sure of these sites are im­mense for a coun­try with mea­gre re­sources like Le­sotho.

Any clo­sure of these sites would also neg­a­tively im­pact on the re­la­tions be­tween the lo­cal ser­vice providers, as they stand to lose mil­lions of maloti in rev­enue, and also lose jobs and cred­i­bil­ity.

These ser­vice providers are the lifeblood of our spon­sor­ship com­po­nent of the so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity as­pect of gov­ern­ment. They there­fore play a huge role in fill­ing the void left by gov­ern­ment in this re­spect.

More­over, to my knowl­edge it is only Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea and a few coun­tries on earth that have blocked so­cial net­works. It goes with­out say­ing that this re­stric­tion by these pariah states have come at a huge cost to both their fis­cus and in­ter­na­tional im­age. It is surely a con­se­quence that Le­sotho can ill-af­ford. Our in­tegrity and cred­i­bil­ity on the hu­man rights front has al­ready suf­fered im­mense harm in the re­cent times, need­less to say.

So­cial net­works are very cheap and reach an au­di­ence that main­stream media, mainly run and strictly con­trolled by the gov­ern­ment, are very dif­fi­cult to reach. If op­er­ated within the pa­ram­e­ters of the law as has been the case re­cently, so­cial net­works play a very crit­i­cal role in any given coun­try re­gard­less of its de­vel­op­men­tal stage. They reach thou­sands and in some coun­tries, mil­lions of peo­ple at the mere click of a but­ton. The state bet­ter be ad­vised to also har­ness this in­for­ma­tion tech­nol- ogy to present to the public its side of the story.

It is my hum­ble view that only au­to­cratic gov­ern­ments would want to close so­cial net­works. There is surely noth­ing to fear if the gov­ern­ment knows that it is do­ing is right. Fur­ther, state media in Le­sotho, such as tele­vi­sion, ra­dio and news­pa­pers are so heav­ily-laden with gov­ern­ment pro­pa­ganda that no­body cares to watch, lis­ten or read them ex­cept those that think as the gov­ern­ment. It is there­fore fool­hardy, out­ra­geous and counter-pro­duc­tive for gov­ern­ment to close so­cial net­works. Gov­ern­ment should be aware that the truth is like an anthill that sticks-out like a sore thumb even when it is sup­pressed. Gov­ern­ment should there­fore read­ily give-out in­for­ma­tion to the na­tion and the world to pre-empt or cir­cum­vent the so­cial net­works. With­hold­ing in­for­ma­tion by gov­ern­ment is counter-pro­duc­tive. How­ever, I fully agree with gov­ern­ment that there is a need to en­act a cy­ber-law to reg­u­late and con­trol so­cial net­works.

As for so­cial net­works sub­scribers, all credit on their part, be­cause af­ter gov­ern­ment and

some sec­tions of so­ci­ety be­rated them, some­times jus­ti­fi­ably, for go­ing into over-drive with their dis­sem­i­na­tion of in­for­ma­tion and ex­change of ideas, they have reined-in and ca­joled their col­leagues to op­er­ate within the pa­ram­e­ters of the law. In­deed, I has­ten to add that sub­scribers ought to re­spect the pri­vacy and dig­nity, of public fig­ures, the Royal Fam­ily, prom­i­nent per­son­al­i­ties as well as the na­tional in­ter­est and se­cu­rity.

How­ever, they do also have the so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to bring to the fore those mat­ters that main­stream media or­di­nar­ily, ei­ther through de­lib­er­ate omis­sion or in­com­pe­tence, fail to dis­sem­i­nate to this in­for­ma­tion-starved na­tion. So­cial media, at times, acts as an advertising plat­form which is a com­mend­able in­no­va­tion. They also pro­vide in­for­ma­tion to those mem­bers of the public and the world that or­di­nar­ily could have missed the in­tended au­di­ence. They also pro­vide ro­bust de­bate, ed­u­cate and pro­vide ex­change of in­for­ma­tion.

So­cial net­works are there­fore, if prop­erly har­nessed, very use­ful in pro­mot­ing a vi­brant democ­racy and pro­vid­ing the public with vi­tal in­for­ma­tion. In­deed, any na­tion with­out knowl­edge is des­tined for fail­ure, so says the old adage. “My peo­ple are de­stroyed from lack of knowl­edge”: Hosea 4:6

GOV­ERN­MENT needs to har­ness so­cial media to present to the public its side of the story, ar­gues the writer.

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