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Why we can't always moderate timeously

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SA Jewish Report really likes community feedback, whether in the form of letters to the editor or as comments on our website. We try to allow as much freedom of expression as possible to all our users and readers – but legal and decency issues must be respected. There are several people who are often censored and some who we occasionally need to censor. Here is an “Idiot’s Guide” on how to ensure your letters or comments are published.
by ANT KATZ | Mar 29, 2015

Of the 29 comments posted in the 48 hours between Wednesday evening and Shabbos, nine had to be removed due to the content being either:

  • Malik ZaynIllegal (hate-speech, slander, etc); and/or
  • Islamophobia; and/or
  • Unsavoury; and/or
  • Jewish Report could not substantiate what was presented as “factual”.

It is interesting to note that all nine removed comments were posted by a single user. He is a regular contributor of letters to the print edition of Jewish Report and an almost daily visitor to the www.sajr.co.za website.

He has had comments edited previously and has even received both correspondence and online castigation for making comments that do not meet the Jewish Report’s criteria. Maybe he got out on the wrong side of the bed for two days running or has a particular axe to grind this week.

However, all comments on Jewish Report Online, and all letters that go into the Print and/or Online editions, are moderated before being published. This can be a time-consuming exercise, particularly when Jewish Report Online at times, dependent on the issues of the day, gets upwards of ten comments an hour posted.

While Jewish Report Online prides itself on being an open platform for users to comment or join in on conversations (in fact every content item on this website allows users to comment, either in their own name or anonymously), we do prescribe a strict set of rules.

For users to better understand, here’s a short guide:

Moderation falls under four main categories:

Legal issues…

Users are advised that all the normal rules of law apply to online and social media platforms equally.

SingaporeSo, for example, anything that could be deemed to be hate-speech, slander, defamation of character, libel, etc., are not allowed. The general rule of thumb, here, is that if anyone feels they have been so denigrated, they have to sue the writer and the publisher.

Media law allows for a greater level of critique of public or elected persons, and organisations, than of the man in the street. So, for example, if one sees Joe Shmo lying naked in the gutter and drunk, that is his business and sharing it could cause trouble to the sharer.

If, however, one were to see their mayor (or, for that matter, the chair of a Jewish organisation) in the same compromising position, one could legally publish a picture of them as it would be deemed to be in the public interest.

To better understand these applications, look at the LEGALS section of this website, and also specifically the COMMENT GUIDELINES which we follow.

Racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, etc…

Dovekeepers FULL MOUNTAINAs a rule, laws both in SA (under the Constitution) and in Israel (in terms of the Basic Law) are quite specific in defining when anti-religious comments become hate-speech.

A simple rule-of-thumb example of this is as follows:

  • If one categorises some specific individuals of a racial, religious or ethnic group to be x, y, or z – it may be okay to say it; but
  • If one categorises all people of a racial, religious or ethnic group to be x, y, or z – it is absolutely racism.

For example the statement: “All Jews (or Muslims) are brutal savages” is as racist as can be.

On the other hand, to say “ISIS-members are brutal savages,” or “The Muslims who beat up teenage movie-goers last week are brutal savages” is not racist as one is defining a specific group as against an entire race.

Unsavoury…

This really is the only one of the four categories that is subjective and it is certainly hugely difficult to define exactly.

Dovekeepers Full NCISJewish media worldwide is often criticised by devout users of allowing Loshen Hora in their coverage or user-posts. Yet it is difficult to draw a line which satisfies a “broad church” of readers and users who want real Jewish news coverage.

“Common decency” is an approach one has to use as an editor, and this does mean different things to different people.

A good guideline to use here, is to ask oneself when posting a comment: “How would I like this is the shoe was on the other foot?”

If you are going to say: “So-and-so, is a this or that”, first ask yourself if you would like “So-and-so” to say the same “this or that” about you?

So, for example, if Joe Shmo, hiding beneath a cloak of anonymity, posts a comment critical of another individual, it would not be allowed. But the same comment by a known individual may well be. If, for example, Wits VC Habib criticises SAUJS chair Natan Pollack, or vice versa, the comment would be considered fair game (as long as it doesn’t compromise another legal or ethical rule).

Factual

Jewish Report Online also applies harsher criteria for comments made anonymously than we do to those made by know individuals. Once again we refer users to our COMMENT GUIDELINES. These often relate to the veracity of things which may be stated in a user-post as “facts”.

Singapore hezi-carmel-mossadExamples of this would be, say, if the Chief Rabbi or Rosh Beth Din comment on a religious aspect, SAJR Online could not be faulted for allowing the comment as a matter of “fact” on the basis that they should know.

If, however, a user-post of exactly the same nature is posted by someone simply signing themselves as “Rabbi,” “Orthodox Rabbi,” or even “Rabbi Joe Shmo” and does not provide a verifiable email address, we could not publish their comment as a statement of fact.

Similarly, if SAJBD national director Wendy Kahn posts a comment in which she takes someone to task for something they have said, we would not be remiss in publishing it.

 If, however, it was a controversial issue and Joe Shmo posted the same comment, which SAJR staffers did not have knowledge was factual, we WOULD be remiss in publishing it.

Of course, the purpose of this platform is to provide a community forum for all opinions. With this in mind, we would encourage users to raise any concerns they may have with the rules we apply. Simply click here: online.editor@sajr.co.za and your comment will be considered with our editor-in-chief and a decision taken.

Non-negotiables...

Before you start sending heaps of e-mails, however, remember that there certain criteria that are not open for discussion in terms of our mandate to service ALL of SA Jewry (and remembering that some 35 percent of our users are overseas – mainly expat South Africans, USW organisations and Israeli government departments):

  1. SAJR Online serves all streams of Jewish South Africans;
  2. SAJR Online has an unashamedly pro-Israel outlook;
  3. SAJR Online supports all streams of Zionism, from the left to the right;
  4. SAJR Online is absolutely not a platform for Muslim-bashing; and
  5. SAJR Online will continue to nurture its fast-growing following among Christian Zionists and moderate Muslims – many of whom rely on this platform for honest and unbiased reporting.

Apart from those non-negotiables, users, please feel free to send in, or post below, any input you may like to have on the rules we apply to discussions.

2 Comments

  1. 2 Gary Selikow 30 Mar
    'Islamophobia' a pc term to silence anyone who warns of the dangers and poison of Islam
    That illustrates 'the point, Gary, you should have written "radical" Islam. The Quran in and of itself is as much a proponent of peaceful coexistence as the Torah. Both have statements that can be misinterpreted  -ED
     
  2. 1 Natalie Sacks 08 Apr
    "SAJR Online serves all streams of Jewish South Africans"

    Good to know.

    Do you therefore serve Jews for Jesus?

    And if not, why not?

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