Insult Laws

May 15, 2013 - 4:58 AM

From Lukasa, Zambia, for the ONE Campaign

An important part of the ONE Campaign's effort to involve young men and women in Africa in helping to determine the next round of Millennium Development Goals for 2015 is a project called "You Choose."

You Choose involves utilizing mobile phone numbers by large corporations asking users (at no cost) to text a certain message to a certain number if they want to become involved. Then they get to go through a decision-tree and pick out the issues they think should be highlighted.

This, as you might imagine, has taken the time and talents of some of the best young organizers in southern Africa and we've had the opportunity to catch of with some of them both in South sAfrica and in Malawi.

We'll meet more in Zambia starting later today, but the other night we had a fascinating dinner with a young woman journalist and two men who have built an impressive list of media-related organizations that want their people to get involved.

One of the problems they presented was the off-the-books, but very real issue of "Insult Laws."

Insult laws are similar to libel and slander laws except (a) they don't exist in the law, (b) they are enforced unevenly and (c) a journalist can find him/herself in hot water for for anything a (typically) public figure believes might have been offensive.

In the U.S., truth is a defense of libel or slander. If it's true, you can't be punished - financially or otherwise. Also since the New York Times vs Sullivan case it is really hard to libel or slander a public figure. No only does what you said or wrote have to be false, it had to have been written or uttered "with actual malice" in mind.

During our discussion of the developing political systems in places like Malawi, the young professionals said that for their readers and peers the biggest issue is "governance." When I pressed that point they all agreed and said they don't trust their political leaders to be honest, to be fair, nor to keep their collective hands out of the till.

I said the United States pretty much runs on trust. That if someone comes along that is too far afield to the left or the right, Americans will correct for that and move on within (in most cases) the established two-party system.

That works, I said, because we have trust in our political institutions which we've been working on since 1789.

Then came the news that the U.S. Department of Justice has been collecting the phone records of some 20 journalists from the Associated press trying to find who leaked what in the reporting of a plot in Yemen to put a bomb aboard a U.S.-bound jet that was foiled by American intelligence agents.

Calls from business phones, cell phones, and even home phones have been examined in an extremely wide-ranging effort to find this out.

If this DoJ activity had been an isolated case, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's bobbing and weaving which essentially came down to, "We don't know nothin' about birthin' no babies" might have calmed the roiled waters in the WH Briefing Room.

But, this has come on the heels of the Obama Administration making a hash out of the Benghazi cover-up; and the news that the IRS has been targeting conservative not-for-profit groups.

Some reports have held that the IRS was looking for organizations with the word "Tea" in them: Tetley, Constant Comment, Lipton's, maybe even Tia Leone and Mr. T.

This targeting of groups that are, by definition, opposed to the policies and programs of President Barack Obama.

That leads us to this question: Has Barack Obama instituted "Insult Laws" in the United States?

It certainly appears so.

Obama may be stretching the trust of the American people have had in his Administration to the breaking point.

We may have more to learn from the young professionals in Africa through the "You Choose" campaign than we thought.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the New York Times vs Sullivan, to the ONE Campaign's "You Choose" effort, and to the DoJ's snooping around AP reporters' phone calls. Also, a Mullfoto from Malawi that speaks volumes about Washington, DC.