Online Censorship Bill Passed in South Africa

South Africa’s Cabinet has approved the submission of the films and publications amendment bill, the new policy has been criticized for seeking to curb internet freedoms. Many criticize the policy as a stab to censor the Internet in South Africa. The cabinet said the bill seeks to amend the films and publications act of 1996 by adapting it to technological advances.

These changes include catering for online and social media platforms “in order to protect children from being exposed to disturbing and harmful media content in all platforms (physical and online)”. A draft policy drawn up by content classification body the Film and Publication Board (FPB) is expected to inform the bill. The problem here is that the policy demands pre-classification of published content. This means that anyone wishing to post anything in a digital space, first needs to apply to the FPB for a digital online distributers licence (and pay a fee) and thereafter submit each piece of content to the FPB for pre-classification before it can be posted online (and pay another fee). This means that members of the Press Council will have their online content governed by the Press Code and not the online regulation policy.

Gavin Davis, the Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for communications, said that the amendment bill has yet to be gazetted and that the communications portfolio committee would still need to “deliberate on it and amend it” before it is signed into law. The policy has been expected to effect on online publishers by forcing them to apply to the board to have their content classified.

The worst part of the policy is that it allows for the regulation of individual communications/publications. Section 7.1 of the policy states, “user created content includes any publication… inter alia, a drawing, picture, illustration or painting; recording or any other message or communication, including a visual presentation, placed on any distribution network including, but not confined to, the Internet.” This clause is particularly scary because it means that the policy over-reaches even that which is distributed online, and can apply to any person who produces any material of any kind and distributes it to anyone. And then, “7.11. Where the user-created content is prohibited or illegal content, the Board shall have the power, in addition to ordering the online distributor concerned to take down the content, to refer the offending and illegal content to the South African Police Services for criminal investigation and prosecution”. This means that ordinary citizens who distribute private personal content may be automatically criminalized for doing something as simple as, for example, sending a WhatsApp message to a friend.

“The Bill strengthens the duties imposed on mobile networks and Internet service providers to protect the public and children during usage of their services. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) will not issue licences or renewals without confirmation from the Film and Publication Board of full compliance with its legislation,” Cabinet said in a media statement.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) will not issue licenses or renewals without confirmation from the Film and Publication Board of full compliance with its legislation. The FPB was not available for comment on what exactly is contained in the amendment bill.

“Yes, the bill has not yet come before Parliament so there will be opportunity to amend it,Now it needs to come to Parliament before the communications portfolio committee. We will deliberate on it, and amend where necessary before it is passed in the national assembly and then signed into law by the president,” Davis said.

Via Techunzipped

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