News24: Comment is no longer free

The editorial board of News24 has decided to disable reader comments on its online platform as of tomorrow, 11 September. (That date should keep conspiracy nuts frothing for a while.) At the outset, I should say that I myself am not a regular visitor to News24.

The rationale offered by News24 for this curtailment is that the comments foster racism, bigotry, nastiness, trolling and other negative elements. There are various reasons why I think disallowing comments is a mistake—a big one at that. In a nutshell, my view is that the benefits of allowing comments significantly outweigh the downsides.

Whereas some people attempt to argue that this ban violates the constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of speech, I find this line of reasoning unpersuasive simply because there are many other avenues open to readers who wish to comment and, as a host, News24 is not required to provide the means for comments to be aired.

It is true that comments do frequently degenerate into hot pockets of callous spite and disparagement but that’s only to be expected when interactions occur at a distance which affords the participants some safety they would not enjoy in a face-to-face setting. I’m really not convinced that that’s a bad thing; on the contrary, it’s part of being human and indeed it can present something of a safety valve to blow off excess steam. Those who don’t like it are entirely free to seek other avenues of expression. The idea that a blanket ban is warranted in order to preserve superficial social niceties and an appearance of harmony is at bottom a profoundly draconian and deeply flawed precept that derives from an airy-fairy idealisation of what it means to be human.

Some commenters have suggested that News24’s rescinding of its comments facility is driven by kowtowing to the demands of SA’s ruling party. If true, this possibility provides even firmer ground for condemning News24’s reversal because it would then be the result of political pressure for the purpose of further bolstering a burgeoning autocratic bent in the ANC.

But what’s at even more critical stake here is the free exchange of ideas in the most convenient circumstances available. Like other publications, News24 articles are regularly scant on background and context. Readers’ comments often do a fine job of fleshing out these aspects, and what the importance, meaning, consequences and further development of a news article are. The publication itself typically presents a much more fragmented, even disjointed, account.

Moreover, the sharing of views with particular reference to a given article encourages appreciation of other viewpoints and interpretations. People can learn things from each other that they may not learn without a free exchange of ideas being both available and readily accessible at the point where it is most relevant.

These gains cannot be a bad thing, however heated the discussions may become.

Finally, there is also a purely ethical element to consider, namely what it says about an organisation that has shown itself ready to take away what it once freely gave for reasons that do not stand up very well under scrutiny.

I think that News24 shareholders should earnestly ponder whether to dump their stock because it’s sure to nosedive when News24’s advertising revenue inevitably begins to wither as a result of the sudden decline in readership that is sure to come.


^ What she said.

I’m all for free expression and also acknowledge their right to do with their website as they please. I do, however, think it’s a bad idea.

Any word on whether they’ll keep their “reader submissions” though? I mean those were a hot-bed of free exchange (bad, good, or otherwise).

I have often found the comments on articles there to be more interesting than the articles themselves (many of which are extremely poorly written). I have occasionally been a commenter myself, often to point out glaring errors in articles. Perhaps that’s one of the things they don’t like. :slight_smile:

Anyway, I seldom went there, and will now probably go even more rarely.

I agree with most of what you said there, Mefiante, I agree that the argument made that it’s a right to freedom of speech issue is an invalid argument and perhaps more an emotive argument than a logical one and I agree that the comments are often more interesting than the articles and I also agree about that it simply just sucks that this privilege to free exchange of ideas is now being limited and that it now becomes harder to challenge other’s ideas.

But I do not agree that this is somehow politically motivated, rather I do think that they have valid reasons for closing the comments. I wrote my own article on this issue in the opinion section where I’ve expressed my view on the matter.

Boogie, you can still submit whatever you like - so you can still post your opinion on other articles or other opinion pieces, they will still consider every article for publication.

They still get to decide whether your article will be published though and many of my own submissions never gets published, they also have also had double standards on what is acceptable for publication for a very long time - especially when it comes to religious views - they regularly publish the most ridiculous anti-Christian nonsense that’s most of the time written just to provoke them, yet, any article on Islam or anything that remotely mentions allah will not get published, if an article of Islam do get published by chance, that article is normally taken down within the hour of it being published.

It is true that the News24 have been slime pit of bigots and trolls for a very long time and I even knew this when I went in, but like Mefiante feels, I too felt that the positives outweighed the negatives.

But ultimately you should have control over what you want to present to your readers and they are doing just that.

I just wish they would relax their (already low, yet totally arbitrary) standards over what gets published, the thing is if the editor/mod that handles your submission doesn’t like what you have written, doesn’t like you or is opposed to your opinion, your article will likely not get published.

Neels Blom adds a breath of fresh sanity to the debate by way of the H. naledi ruckus. Even if you disagree wholly with Blom, his column is a treat.


IOL follows News24’s lead.


Wonder who’s going to be third.

The comments on news24 many a time, made for such amusement. Far better than the original story.

But I can see that reputable sites would not want hate speech and the like to be in any way associated with them.