SYDNEY, NSW, Australia – Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) has bludgeoned an emerging talent for mixing with a few girls. NRL players for years have been copping huge fines and suspensions for having a drink and for other more serious misdemeanours, but the latest attacks on Nathan Cleary, the Penrith and State of Origin half-back must be bewildering to him. Firstly five girls spent some time at his unit which he shares with teammate Tyrone May. There they posed with him for a photo, which unfortunately for everyone ended up on social media. Then he danced with the girls and a video was taken which also made its way to social media. What did he do wrong? He didn’t follow social media restrictions. Home visits are not allowed during the coronavirus crackdown. His penalty, a proposed $30,000 fine and two match suspensions. Collective punishment is outlawed under UN conventions, but the NRL and others systematically hand out suspensions which penalise an entire team, club, and in this case, potentially a state – if Brad Fittler, coach of New South Wales decides to drop Cleary for what The Daily Telegraph describes as his “deceptive behaviour.” A lot of commentators have been baying for blood with Phil Gould, the former General Manager of Cleary’s club, and a former NSW State of Origin coach calling for Cleary to be sacked for the entire season. This after the revelation of the first incident. As the players didn’t tell the integrity unit of the dancing, which became public through social media, the deputy premier of the state similarly wants Cleary banned for the season, calling the 22-year old a liar. Welcome to the adult world Cleary, two years out of your teens, and make sense of this. It is bullying of the highest order. This was not a malicious act, it was not an attempt to breach the state’s protocols, and it was in his own home. Of course it was irresponsible, but you can’t beat someone up over being irresponsible. In the weeks ahead we’ll see the entire community of New South Wales try to double down on social distancing as they are set free again, and we’ll see how successful everyone will be at this. Decades of habit is not something that can be broken easily. In other parts of the world, despite all the mantra about what people need to do, as parks and beaches, and pools have reopened, within minutes we’ve seen saturated social distancing breaches. Noone will be deliberately trying to do the wrong thing, but people naturally gravitate towards one another. Old people inflict these fines and suspensions, mainly on younger people without any regard for the damage they are doing. Cleary could have been fined $1,000, or even $10,000 which together with the way in which he has been humiliated would have been equally as sufficient to pull him into line. In fact the girls were charged by the police and each fined $1,000. If Cleary wasn’t the talented player he is, they would never have been fined, because the incident wouldn’t be the controversy it is. As it is, the girls get fined $1,000, he gets fined $30,000 and is suspended, and if the commentators get their way he’ll be dropped from State of Origin as well. Counselling Cleary and pointing out the errors of his ways would have been far more effective than what is proposed. “The National Rugby League (NRL) has issued Penrith player Nathan Cleary with a further amended breach notice,” the official statement from the NRL released on Friday said. “The notice sets out additional matters to which Cleary has been asked to respond. The additional matters relate to his co-operation with the NRL Integrity Unit. The further amended notice proposes a fine of $30,000 and a two-match suspension, which would be served at the resumption of the NRL competition.” “Fellow Penrith player, Tyrone May, has also been issued with a breach notice relating to the same matter and his co-operation with the NRL’s investigation. The notice proposes a $15,000 fine and a two-match suspension,” the statement said. “The notices allege that the players were untruthful in relation to material matters and the proposed sanctions reflect the seriousness of those allegations.” “Both Players will now have an opportunity to respond to the matters alleged in Breach Notices before a final determination is made,” the NRL said in its statement. It seems in Australia these days, media, commentators, and even the general public delight in getting stuck into one another. We saw the media-driven gang-tackling of former CEO Todd Greenberg, just as his predecessor Dave Smith was brought down in the same way, and the former Chairman of the AFL John Grant after him. At least Peter V’landys probably won’t suffer a similar fate as his appointment and every move he makes has been championed by the media monopoly in Australia, Nine (formerly Fairfax) and News Corp, who together are now seemingly being handed an extended 7-year TV rights deal, apparently at reduced rates. No wonder they’re cheering. Source: Big News Network

Governments across the world are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alongside the mountain of related challenges, fake news has become a source of frustration. Some are now referring to this fake news phenomenon as a ‘disinfodemic’.

Purveyors of fake news are disseminating propaganda and disinformation. This has increased panic amongst the public and slowed the progress of the fight against the new coronavirus pandemic.

The ‘disinfodemic’ has resulted in misinformed behaviours such as drinking alcohol and applying heat to kill the virus. Some people were led to believe that the virus only affects white people, that testing kits are contaminated, and that vaccines are being tested on Africans while the truth is that a vaccine has not yet been discovered in Africa.

Other fake news purveyors purported that shaving makes face masks more effectivemade up riots, and made fake claims with falsified video evidence about Nigerians burning Chinese-owned shops in response to cases of harassment of Africans in China.

These instances are just the tip of the iceberg and governments have had to adopt and implement strict measures to combat the ‘disinfodemic’. Many have been able to contain fake news by warning or arresting those spreading it.

For example, in Mauritius, a man who falsely claimed that riots had erupted after the prime minister announced the closure of supermarkets and shops, was arrested under the Information and Communication Technology Act.

In South Africa, authorities arrested people spreading the news that the virus was being spread by foreigners. And in Kenya, a 23-year-old man was arrested after he published false information with the intent to cause panic.

But these strict controls are also affecting the freedom of expression of people on the continent.

Fake news versus freedom of expression

Even before COVID-19, many African countries used libel and defamation laws, and internet shut downs to limit the freedom of expression of citizens and the media. Some are examples are Cameroon, Ethiopia, Chad, Egypt and Uganda.

With the advent of the new coronavirus, the pandemic is now being used as an excuse to further limit freedom of expression. In Tunisia for example, two bloggers who criticised their government’s response to COVID-19 were arrested.

In Mauritius, a woman who published a sarcastic meme against the government was arrested for spreading fake news. And in countries such as Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia and Zimbabwe, there are increasing cases of arrests and attacks by law enforcement and security agencies on journalists covering the pandemic.

These incidents act as a limitation to the freedom of expression of Africans, including that of the press. In this regard, on World Press Day – 3 May – the UN Secretary General emphasised the role of the press as an ‘antidote’ to the ‘disinfodemic’.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and Human Rights Watch have adopted guidelines and checklists regarding the protection of human rights. This includes the freedom of expression as COVID-19 measures are implemented.

There are also many laws at the global and regional level that require countries to uphold freedom of expression even in times of pandemics. That freedom can only be limited with justification for instance where news is proven to be fake.

Protection

Many of the arrests and attacks that are being made by government officials in different African countries are contrary to international conventions.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects the universal freedom of expression but provides for limitations. Measures to contain fake news during COVID-19 are permissible under the protections of public health. However, these limitations do not apply when citizens critique the measures their governments have taken as long as they do not spread fake news.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression published a report last month on disease pandemics and freedom of opinion and expression. The Special Rapporteur emphasised that freedom of expression is critical to meeting the challenges of the pandemic.

The report recommended that states must still apply the test of legality, necessity and proportionality before limiting freedom of expression even in cases of public health threats. This recommendation can still be used to combat fake news as long as the impact on freedom of expression is minimal.

At the continental level, freedom of expression is protected by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa issued a recently press statement expressing concerns about internet shutdowns in African countries in the time of COVID-19.

The statement recommended that states guarantee respect and protection of the right to freedom of expression and access to information. This would be through access to the internet and social media services. The Special Rapporteur emphasised that states must not use COVID-19 as “an opportunity to establish overarching interventions”.

And the African Commission recently published its Revised Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa. According to the Declaration, freedom of expression is an indispensable component of democracy. It states that no one should

The African Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are binding on all African states except Morocco and South Sudan respectively.

Thus, African nations must ensure that they protect freedom of expression even in times of a pandemic. This must be the case unless governments are genuinely containing fake news.

African states should adopt regulations that clearly define what constitute fake news in relation to COVID-19. They must allow the citizens and the media to express themselves. The measures being taken in response to COVID-19 must be debated without fear of frivolous charges.

Finally, African governments must not use fake news during this pandemic as a shield to violate the freedom of expression of its citizens, or settle old scores with the press.

Source: Big News Network

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