South African government wants to regulate online comments

Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi has said in a column for the Daily Maverick that she is committed to pushing new laws to extend the reach of the Film and Publication Board (FPB) to include online content.

The Film and Publications Amendment Bill and the FPB’s related draft online regulation policy have been widely criticised for impinging on citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of expression.

In 2015, the Electronic Frontier Foundation called the FPB’s draft online regulation policy Africa’s worst new Internet censorship law.

Muthambi said that as the “custodian department for communications platforms in South Africa”, their conviction has become stronger that they did the right thing by tabling the amendment to the Films and Publications Act of 1996.

Among other things, she said, it will compel all online content distributors to ensure that their content is not offensive or in violation of the country’s laws.

“The eruption of racism at the beginning of this year serves as a great reminder of the power of the Internet and social media, and just how destructive that power can be in the wrong hands,” said Muthambi.

The recognition of the “maliciousness and vitriol found in many online platforms” has caused local and global publications to close their online comments sections, she said.

Muthambi said the Internet presents new and complex challenges for content classification.

“As policy makers, we need to respond appropriately to ensure that this medium is effectively regulated, in the same way that radio, television, and print media are compelled to abide by certain rules.”

Cabinet has already approved the submission of the amendment bill to Parliament, and Muthambi said the proposed changes are set to come up for discussion in February and March.

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South African government wants to regulate online comments