Thursday, 30 August 2007

South African Government And Internet Censorship - Busted!

A free media is central to democracy - the voice of the people needs to be aired and made public so that all, including those in power, have a sense of the mood of the people. It is consensus among most South Africans (my opinion, not based on research!) that the SABC is the government mouthpiece. It was under the apartheid regime and continues to be so under ANC rule. What we don't need, or want for that matter, is for the electronic media to become the voice of government and we certainly don't want government interference or censorship in online publishing.

It was therefore pleasing to see action taken last Friday against a government official for censoring a Wikipedia entry on South Africa's HIV/AIDS policies. The official had vandalised the entry in the online encyclopaedia from a computer that was traced to the offices of Statistics SA, the government statistics headquarters that are situated in Centurion. The offices are part of the State Information Technology Agency.

The interference in the Wikipedia article was discovered by two ITWeb journalists who tracked the deletions to Statistics SA using the IP address of the machine which the editing took place on. Further investigation by Statistics SA then led to the culprit being identified. The employee faces a disciplinary hearing.

According to Carey Finn of IOL the changes to the wikipedia entry were detected by other users and reversed within three minutes. The government official had deleted the topic and supporting references, replaced this with a profane comment, and then removed the effects section of the entry as well as references to an article by Pieter Fourie and the AIDS Portal SA website. All that remained was the section detailing the government’s actions against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Wikipedia’s policy describes vandalism as "any addition, removal, or change of content made in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia".

The very nature of the internet dictates that it is a place where all voices can be heard. Wikipedia taps into this and provides a platform for anyone to contribute to the global knowledge base. It should be a place of fact not opinion and so one would want to keep a check on what is being written. However it is not up to government officials who disagree with a posting to abuse the democractic nature of the site and make alterations to articles which don't suit the official stance of government.

It is pleasing to see government take action on this matter - now let's work at a truly democratic public broadcaster...

3 comments:

David said...

Free the press!

Hi, I did give a brief comment on your well thought out comment to my blog article re. Hilton College..
http://barbourblog.blogspot.com/2007/08/hilton-college-chapel-service.html

South African said...

The web is becoming less and less private and anonymous, with guys like ITweb around. This is both a good and a bad thing.

In this particular case, the government employee's actions were way too unsubtle for them to have any effect - I assume he (or perhaps she) was acting in his private capacity, albeit from a work PC.

Companies obey their masters - the SABC used to obey its apartheid master, now its the puppet of its new masters. Instead of holding one's breathe for the SABC to change (like other couldn't-care-less monopolies) - they wont unless they change owners - just flick the channel to eTV.

Rednose said...

Hey there

Firstly, It's always great to find a new South African Blog. I'm over in England and it's nice to get a piece of home through your blog.
Unfortunately, it sounds like things are really not going well over there.
I've been debating the power of the audience in articles on my blog. British TV is terrible, but what the audience forgets is that they have the power to change it, by boycotting their TVs until the programs get better.

As for the SABC being used as a puppet, that's truly awful. I remember talking to a petrol pump attendant a couple of years ago and he said he was in the same situation as he was when the ANC took over.
Why is the ANC still in power? All they seem to be doing is driving our beloved country into the ground!