H INTRODUCTION igh hopes that the repeal of the common law crime of criminal defamation – promised by the ruling African National Congress to take place in Parliament in April or May, 2016 – were dashed when the draft repeal Bill had not been submitted to Parliament by the year’s end. Inquiries revealed that the Ministry of Justice postponed tabling of the Bill indefinitely because the repeal could raise the possibility of unintended consequences. No date has yet been set for the Bill’s submission to Parliament. The ANC’s recently established legal research group that initiated the repeal process had declared that defamatory statements made through the media should not be considered a criminal offence and civil litigation should be used to pursue defamation claims. The continuing delay raised doubts whether the ANC intends to proceed with the repeal. Though criminal defamation is infrequently used in South Africa, similar laws have been used and abused in many other African countries to stifle criticism of presidents and other political leaders. In those countries, many editors and journalists have been jailed – some for lengthy periods – on charges brought against them for publishing criticism of government policies and conduct. Many charges have been trumped up while some have been based on allegations of publishing false news, where the arbiters of the falsity are government officials. South African journalists fear that 80 So This is Democracy? 2016 in the climate of ruling party hostility towards the press the authorities could be tempted to try to curb the critical press with recourse to similar abuse of the criminal defamation law. LEGISLATION Draft Hate Crimes Bill raises alarm Journalists’ fears have been heightened by the publication in the closing months of 2016 of a draft Bill under the title of Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech. Journalists and civil society organisations were dumbfounded by the content, which proposes sweeping inroads on freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Several organisations – among them the SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and PEN South Africa – have used the period provided for public participation to make highly critical submissions on the Bill. The offences outlined in the Bill are framed extremely broadly, extending to conduct and speech normally regarded as irritating or even offensive but not meriting a criminal charge. The Bill impinges on what would be regarded as humorous commentary on the mores of society and has alarmed some comedians. While one comedian supports the Bill because too many people have “gotten away with a slap on the wrist for hate speech”, three of his colleagues expressed grave concerns that the Bill is “too broad and very restrictive” and that it will prevent them from making critical jokes about the conduct of leading politicians and officials.