Latiefa Mobara, seasoned journalist and now “sort-of social worker”, she jokes, provided much food for thought and provocation on the expanding and slippery territory of digital technology under her current job description of Public Advocate for the Press Council. The council, the Ombudsman and the Appeals Panel form the independent co-regulatory mechanism created by the print media to provide speedy and cost-effective solutions to complaints and problems between publications and members of the public regarding the content of publications. Mobara deals energetically, enthusiastically and efficiently with all manner of complains from pensioners not receiving their newspapers, to a suicidal woman dealing with severe challenges over removing defamatory and incorrect information published about her on the internet.
Within the drastically increasing number of complaints over the last year, Mobara has noticed a trend occurring – problems and complaints regarding the limitations on the regulation of digital media. With the digital era has come the ability to do exactly what I am doing now – what we all do everyday on our own blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter and so forth. Not only the press but anyone can express themselves freely on the internet. While freedom of expression is a fundamental pillar of democracy, this internet era has come with an undeniable deluge of information, so interconnected and fast-paced that to track it all is not humanly possible. What is perhaps more worrying is that this ‘fundamental freedom’ has been abused, creating a conundrum in how we verify our information as fact amid the tirades which (most frequently in spaces of group comments and discussions) lead to debased and down right vile interactions, comment feeds on websites often turning shockingly hateful, sexist and racist.
There are no quick answers as we enter into this uncharted territory, but it is clear that more resources are required to manage this rapidly-growing problem, and that the onus is being placed more and more on the individual to uphold journalistic ethics and common human respect in our increasing access to information. Fortunately, Mobara is acting as an eye and ear to those who seek to rectify the injustice of false facts.