Free speech does not grant the right to insult, hurt and spread rumours

Politics and gossip are a very intoxicating combination. [iStockphoto]

I was about to leave my house when, lo and behold, I saw an (in)famous blogger walk up the stairs.

Since there was no other house on that staircase, it was obvious that he was coming to our house. As tradition demands, I welcomed him, and he promptly sat down and was offered a drink.

He then started talking as if we were the best of friends and I looked at him with amazement. Never in my life have I ever asked someone to leave my house, but I could not bear the thought of this man sitting in my house for a second more.

I asked him what he wanted and he replied, “don’t you want my greetings?” I replied that greetings "are for God", and now that I have accepted his greetings, he should finish his drink and go.

I then walked out and left him to finish his drink. Why the rudeness from me? The blogger burst onto the social media scene in Mombasa, recording videos, discussing political issues with gusto.

Using very polite Kiswahili, he attacked the political establishment in Mombasa. Most people love rebels, and he was fearless.

He dared say what many people were scared to, and people were waiting for his next video broadcast. People started supplying him with all sorts of political gossip and he lapped it all.

Politics and gossip are a very intoxicating combination. As his popularity and infamy grew, the tone of the videos started to change.

He became abusive, accused people of all sorts of unsubstantiated allegations and slowly slid down to become outright scandalous. He accused prominent people of theft, drug dealing, land grabbing and even claimed that some of the children of a well-known woman were sired by a famous drug lord.

That was the last straw for many people. Tarnishing the reputation of a man long gone and a distinguished lady was too much for most people. However, the general public still lapped it, as they love all gossip.

The more salacious they became, the more they circulated online. This case raises a critical question in the exercise of our democratic rights.

How far is free speech allowed? Can a person exercise his right to free speech by screaming “fire” in a crowded cinema knowing that his scream would lead to a stampede that could kill many people? Clearly not.

Why does a man sitting in the luxury of his apartment spread malicious videos in the name of free speech with no regard to the reputational damage that he is doing to the victims? Such people take advantage of the fact that most decent people would not bother to reply or defend themselves.

Many bloggers and writers operate on the assumption that once a person becomes a politician or public figure, then they are open season to any hunter with a pen, computer, camera or video.

A British journalist used this argument when he taped the late Princess Diana’s private conversations and released them much to the embarrassment of the Royal Family.

Worst still, they deeply hurt the Princess’ young children. Two weeks later the same journalist was invited to a German television show where he defended his right to go public with his tapes.

He was then asked whether he was a public figure and if the same argument applied to him and he said yes.

The television studio then broadcast a video that they had secretly filmed him enjoying a pornographic video in the privacy of his hotel room.

He left the interview in a huff. Apparently, he valued his privacy.