FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION INSTITUTE SLAMS SA'S TELKOM OVER HELLKOM SUIT

Digital Content

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) says Telkom is “lying” in its letter and statements against parody site Hellkom, in which Telkom accuses it of trademark infringement and encouraging hate speech.

This follows Telkom's threat to launch a R5 million lawsuit against the originators and owners of Hellkom.co.za and Telkomsucks.0catch.com. Letters were sent to the owners and administrators of the sites this week, demanding they refrain from making unauthorised use of Telkom's trademark and using disparaging logos.

“Telkom is lying by saying Hellkom infringes on its trademark and incites hate speech,” says Simon Ndungu, head of FXI's anti-censorship programme. “They are simply trying to get back at him.”

He stresses that the site is a parody, and criticised Telkom. “This is freedom of speech. Telkom's allegations are spurious and disturbing.”

According to Ndungu, an infringement of trademark rights only happens when someone claims the trademark falsely as their own, or when an unauthorised party makes money out of the trademark. He says neither of these applies to Hellkom.

“The trademark issue is just the easiest way to bully Hellkom. Why did Telkom not go for defamation?”

Ndungu described as “laughable” Telkom's assertion that Hellkom encouraged hate speech.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Telkom said: “Telkom strongly supports and respects freedom of expression as long as it does not cross the boundary of hate speech and/or defamation.”

Ndungu says the South African Constitution has clear standards for determining hate speech: to be considered hate speech, it must be offensive to ethnic, race and religious sensibilities and/or it must incite people to violence.

“The bar is so high that no court will uphold Telkom's allegation,” he says.

Ndungu says that if Telkom really believed in freedom of speech, it should take note of what people are saying in the “vent” section of the site, rather than trying to close it down.

Today was the deadline set by Telkom for the site's administrator, Gregg Stirton, to comply with its demands for the site to be removed. He was unavailable for comment at time of publication today.

Telkom media specialist Ravin Maharaj says he doesn't expect the group to make any statement before the close of business today.

IT Web