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Phone Hacking, RICA and why @nicdawes is on to something July 10, 2011

Posted by cmfry in Politics.
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This week, the dominating story on the world stage was the unceremonial closing of arguably the world’s largest newspaper. This follows a phone hacking scandal, where it’s alleged (and proven) that journalists of the News of the World newspaper hacked the phones of, among others, the victims of the 7 July 2005 bombings in London. This story has significant importance  on two fronts in South Africa.

The first is the act of phone hacking. For a large part of the past 2 years, South Africans were encouraged to have their mobile phones approved according to the RICA Act. The Act is meant to curb the use of cell phones in criminal activities, as well as allowing security agencies within government structures the freedom to tap into one’s phone, should there be reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is happening (this, of course, requires a warrant). The problem is that while the use of monitoring devices by government institutions is regulated by the Act, at present, the database is not completely secure, as was demonstarted last week, when pre-RICA’d sim cards were freely available on the black market. This shows that the application of the Act is far below what is required. Hence, one must wonder whether a similiar scandal is destined to happen in this country, even with the act in operation.

The second point was laid out by Nic Dawes, editor of the Mail And Guardian newspaper in South Africa. In one of his tweets of 8 July, he highlights how the Guardian newpaper’s pursuit of the News of the World‘s nefarious doings shows that press regulation has many forms. This, of course, comes hot on the heels of the launch of the Press Freedom Commission, which, among others, is comprised of Justics Pius Langa and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. The primary goal of the commission is to “Ensure press freedom in support of enhancing our democracy which is founded on human dignity, equality and freedom”. This is in direct contrast to the ANC‘s wish to establish a media tribunal, which is meant to curb press freedom and ultimately make the printed media subject to the will of the executive and the ruling party.

Now, it is clear that in both instances, regulation is required. However, the price of the rlation must not be the curbing of freedom, either of the individual, or the press. Let’s hope that we learn from the News of the World’s demise and ensure that we all remain responsible citizens, as well as vital, fearless, required arms of our hard fought democracy.

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