Fake News

The American presidential election stirred a lot of mud in the USA and internationally. There are theories that Russia interfered in that election by hacking democratic party e-mail accounts and leaking the results through wiki leaks and other compliant avenues in an attempt to discredit the democratic campaign and in order to install a pro-Russia candidate in the White House. Sometimes theories can be concocted to match outcomes but in this case, my guess is that there is some credibility to the theory that Russia did its best to discredit Clinton and the Democrats and install a much more malleable candidate, namely, President Donald Trump of the USA.

Since then, there have been lots of reports of fake news, one for instance dubbed pizzagate, where the Democrats were alleged to be running a paedophile ring out of a Washington DC pizza parlour See here. Crazy? Yup! But apparently some idiot took it very seriously and went in there with a gun to check out the story. See here.

Some fake news is just motivated by greed. The more ludicrous the claims the more they are shared the more advertising revenue they generate for the web site reporting the absurd. To these sites and their owners it is just a money game. Many of the sites reporting fake news are allegedly run by East Europeans. See the transcript of this discussion between Craig Silverman of Buzz Feed and David Davies of NPR (US National Public Radio) Fake News Analysis Transcript. Wherever the site is based, the criteria is how many hits and revenue can a story generate and the truth of the matter is that the truth of the matter is of no concern.

So if a fake news story generates conflict between two nations who live on the brink of mutually assured destruction (only a slight exaggeration) as was reported on here between Pakistan and Israel, so much the better for the story. What is the big deal if some idiot shoots some of the staff at a pizza parlour (it didn’t but could’ve happened) or a nuclear conflict is precipitated (it didn’t but could’ve happened)? So what, they will argue, as the till clangs ‘k-ching’?

And in case you imagine for one moment that we in South Africa are immune to these machinations, may I draw your attention to the likes of Dr Eschel Rhoodie and the Information Scandal of the Apartheid era (he had a real PhD) and the current scandal surrounding Hlaudi Motsoeneng (who has a fake or no Matriculation Certificate at all), who, while in charge of the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation, South Africa’s public broadcaster), decreed that there had to be 70% positive news stories broadcast about South Africa by the SABC, and that there would be no coverage of unrest (of which there is a fair amount), and who decreed that SABC should broadcast 90% local content and who ruled the media department at the SABC in what has been described as a reign of terror, all of which demonstrates the relevance to South Africa of the curse of fake news and manipulation of the news and the media by the powers that be, past, present and future. It gets even more complicated when big business takes over government and the media serves their interests

Take the story of Iqbal Surve. Born in Cape Town in 12th February 1963 in poor circumstances he apparently pulled himself up by his own shoelaces and became a medical doctor (the facts are unclear – Cape Town U, or did someone mention Cambridge U, or does he even have a MBChB degree?) and confidant and medical advisor to Nelson Mandela (apparently while still a junior medical student) and a recipient of multiple awards from organisations who have never heard of him. His life appears to be a fabrication (see much posturing, political favour currying, more incredulity). In fact, he seems a bit of a charlatan who has got into bed with the ANC and who managed to con the Public Investment Corporation (or maybe they were complicit) into parting with R900 000 000 (Nine Hundred Million) of public pension funds apparently to buy the Independent Newspapers, which sum is alleged to be non-repayable, whatever that means. One’s head spins. And this person heads up the not so Independent Newspaper Group. The largest group of English language newspapers in South Africa is headed up by this apology for a media mogul and ANC stooge. And that is the relevance of Iqbal Surve to the topic of fake news.

Surve is not the only worm in the can.  If you only concern is how government departments spend your hard earned money, look no further than the new Nielsen report which highlights the Gupta owned New Age rag (I hesitate to imply it has a better status) having hooks into major government departments and parastatals, sucking them dry of their advertising budgets.  Read all about it here and be as appalled as I am..

As if that were not enough to make the average South African nauseous, the ANC has, apparently for years, run a black ops department, specialising in tailoring news and information for public consumption. One of the Black Ops contractors is now suing the ANC for unpaid fees for fake news activities. The ANC of course are claiming this is fake news, which is sort of the point of this entire blog. Who and what to believe.  See Lies will always out.

So when Putin says with a wink and a nod that no Russian regulars are engaged in military activities in the Ukraine, the media, in an effort to be non biased, print the assertion even though the evidence suggests otherwise.

The point of all this is, who in the world do we trust to keep us informed and not to misinform us. On what do we base our decisions on who to elect as future leaders and what if anything can we do to discredit and maybe punish purveyors of fake news? Is it not, after all, a question of fraud? But if you go after the news fraudsters you are bound to damage genuine media outlets as well, who could in self defence engage in self censorship. Dare we publish this or that story? Kind of self-defeating.

Of course, fake news is nothing new.  Britain used it on China to encourage China to Join against Germany in the first world war, Germany used it  in the second world war against the Jews and other non Aryans and against the Allies, Goering was Nazi Germany’s propaganda wizard. Fake news has always been with us.  What has changed is the method of delivery with media like twitter and Face-book and the news media trying to keep abreast of itself.  Fake news that took months or even years to plan and disseminate before now happens in moments on the Internet and has an avid global audience.

But some of the things we can do to protect against fake news are discussed here, here and here, and a good dose of skepticism will go a long way. You can also read up more here and here.  Sadly this is actually never ending. So let me at least end this now.

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The Capital Punishment Debate

The reality is that there are some crimes that are so heinous and criminals who are so devoid of human conscience, that these criminals are beyond any chance of rehabilitation, redemption or safe detention. Such criminals should be sentenced to the maximum penalty available to the law so society can rid itself of the responsibility of safely imprisoning them for the rest of their lives with the concomitant risk of escape or being inadvertently let loose into society.

In an article “Capital Punishment – …..”, Ruth Hopkins argues in the Daily Maverick, that capital punishment is unacceptable because too many convictions are flawed.

The Direct Democracy Forum (DFF) acknowledge this but, rather than toss out capital punishment as an option for the courts to exercise, would rather introduce meaningful legislation to improve the quality of our judicial system and trial, conviction and penalty processes. This would include the following steps:

1) outlaw admissions of guilt, thus all convictions would need to be evidence based and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

2) eliminate plea bargains or deals between the prosecution and defence admitting guilt to lesser charges in return for lesser sentences, often without a trial

3) all instances of capital punishment would have a statutory three level appeal process, to separately examine a) the trial process for correctness and the evidence for veracity and b) the quality of the defence (was the defence deficient in any way) and c) the appropriateness of the penalty.

These appeals would be heard by higher and separate courts than the trials courts.

4) the state would not defend an accused with public defenders but rather the state would fund the defence by private defence practitioners, selected by the defendant, and deemed competent to mount an adequate and appropriate capital defence. There is in fact an international precedent for this where the defence of Adolf Eichmann was paid for by the state of Israel, to ensure that the defendant was adequately represented, because the defendant could not otherwise afford the counsel of his choice.

5) finally, any verdict involving capital punishment would have to be considered by Parliament, where a statutory bill of clemency would have to be voted on. This would involve all the houses of parliament engaged in the normal legislative process. This would preclude any clemency or concession granted by the State President or any other political figure.

The DDF believe that capital punishment should include sentences exceeding 20 years to life of imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, and of course, the death sentence, but the application of the death sentence would only be administered when the impact of these new prosecutorial limits and the appeal processes were deemed by parliament to have effectively eliminated flawed convictions.

The DDF do not believe that this is all that can be said or should be said about the death penalty and capital crimes and capital punishment, but do however believe, that this is an appropriate position from which to start the debate. The endeavour to ensure that our judicial systems and processes are just and without flaws needs to be an ongoing process of self appraisal and assessment.

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Withdrawal of South Africa from the ICC

South Africa’s and others’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) has seriously undermined the ability of the world to bring needed change to the ICC.

In an article “Going Beyond the ICC Hysteria” – SIYABULELA GEBE argues here that while there are legitimate reasons for and against the participation of South Africa in the ICC a compelling argument for involvement is that without the ICC, there is no institution, neither the stillborn African Court of Justice nor the ICC, that can hold African leaders to account for their plundering of Africa’s people and resources.

In another article “Sticking with the ICC is Africa’s best shot at reform” – Allan Ngari for ISS TODAY argues here that while there are imperfections in the ICC’s agenda, based mainly on the ability of the UN Security Council to indicte ICC member states’ heads of government for committing atrocities, an ability seen as unjust because most of the permanent members of the UNSC are not signatories to the Rome convention of the ICC and thence are beyond the reach themselves of the ICC, there are avenues through which the Rome Statute can be amended, and that in fact, the Southern States have sufficient votes to give effect to desired amendments. Given that that is the case, it makes no sense for African states and, in particular, for South Africa, to withdraw from the ICC. Rather they should engage with the ICC and seek a more just means of bringing indictments through arguments for amendments of the Rome Statute.

Yet another article “African states must not waste a golden opportunity” by Solomon Sacco, Senior Legal Adviser and Netsanet Belay, Africa Director of Research and Advocacy at Amnesty International, argue here that the two greatest challenges of the ICC are to also focus its attention on atrocities in other continents than Africa and that the ICC is very much hostage to global politics. Both these failings need to be addressed by an all inclusive ICC and that Amnesty International needs African nations to support their efforts in seeing that these failings are addressed, and that abandoning the ICC in a fit of pique merely weakens the possibilities for meaningful change to the Rome Statute.

The Direct Democracy Forum (DDF) believe that the ANC led government is posturing for the approval of the pan African lobby, saying, “see what great Africans we are”, instead of remaining in the ring and punching above its weight as South Africa has so often done on international stages in the past.

Nothing is gained and everything is lost by this form of grandstanding and is just another example of ANC ineptness.

The DDF are very much in favour of engagement and bringing about change through rational argument amongst equals in the world’s forums.  Abandoning forums like the ICC will never bring about change, instead it will reduce South Africa to the role of an external and helpless observer with no influence on and in world affairs.  The DDF believe that engaging with South Africans and the world at large in a principled manner, will encourage the adoption of principles amongst all in South Africa and in the world, and that conversely, disengaging from the world will encourage the abandonment of principles both nationally and internationally. 

A DDF administration would ensure that South Africa takes its rightful place in international forums and in particular, rejoins the ICC.

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