Netflix must now follow FPB ratings rules

The Film and Publication Board (FPB) has announced that it has signed a distribution agreement with Netflix, bringing the international streaming service under its regulatory domain.

“Netflix joins the likes of Showmax, Google, and Apple to become the ninth online distributor to contract with the FPB, ensuring compliance with the Film and Publications Act, and the Classification Guidelines,” the FPB said.

The FPB said its classification guidelines were aligned with the social norms and values of the South African public, and provide advisories and age ratings that protect vulnerable customers.

“The signing of this contract is the culmination of a series of discussions on the prioritisation of safe content consumption for our citizens, where materials distributed in the country are accompanied by ratings that prepare the consumer for the type of content they are about to view,” said FPB acting CEO Abongile Mashele.

“This allows parents and caregivers to make informed choices on the content to which their children are exposed.”

Self-classification system

The Film and Publication Amendment Act requires all distributors of films, games, and certain publications to register with the FPB and ensure that their materials are classified prior to reaching consumers.

Classified media, such as Netflix shows, will then include an FPB classification triangle, which includes an age rating as well as a consumer advisory (e.g., SV for sexual violence).

Mashele said the increasing popularity of online streaming services has galvanised the FPB into ensuring these platforms are held by the same classification standards as other distributors.

“As a content regulator with its finger on the pulse of the industry, this trend has spurred the FPB on to innovate the way in which we classify content,” Mashele said.

“A self-classification system is one that we find works well for online distributors. We have made great strides in bringing more online platforms onboard.”

“However, we live in ever-changing times, and will in future continue to adapt our operating models to ensure advances in technology and distribution have adequate child and consumer protection mechanisms,” Mashele said.

The FPB said it would engage Netflix in “intensive training” on classification guidelines before the streaming service can begin to classify and apply ratings to its own content.

The board will also conduct quality assurance on Netflix’s self-classified material.

“The public can rest assured that the films they view on Netflix will be aligned to South African rating standards,” the FPB said.

Internet censorship and previous disagreements

When The Film and Publication Amendment Act (also known as the “Internet Censorship Bill”) was signed into law on 2 October 2019, the FPB said it was pleased that it would be able to hold international online companies accountable.

“This will assist in providing regulatory certainty on the mandate of the FPB for distributors of films and games online and on traditional platforms of content distribution,” the FPB said.

“The Bill empowers the FPB by ensuring the Board can take administrative action and issue administrative sanctions against non-compliant distributors.”

As of October 2019, the FPB had a flat fee for online distributors of R795,000 per year to allow them to self-classify content. Such distributors would need to send their own classifiers to the FPB for training first.

This is the same process described by the FPB regarding its agreement with Netflix.

The FPB’s agreement with Netflix contrasts with a statement made by the international streaming service in October 2017, where Netflix said it did not believe it should pay the FPB’s online content licence fee.

Netflix said then that it did not believe the FPB had a right to regulate the Internet and the content found on it.

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Netflix must now follow FPB ratings rules