Freedom of expression “frustrates” censorship of content harmful to children

The Department of Communications and FPB have referred to free speech rights as “frustrating”, with respect to censoring content harmful to children.

The department said protecting children from harmful content is an international issue. It made the remarks during its response to feedback on the Film and Publications Amendment Bill in parliament.

“In the US, freedom of expression considerations have frustrated legislative attempts to restrict the availability of harmful content to children,” said the department.

“Other countries like Russia and India take a firmer view of the harmful effects of strong harmful content.”

The department proposed adding definitions for “harmful” and “hate speech” to the Amendment Bill. They definitions are:

  • Harmful means causing emotional, psychological, or moral distress to a person, whether it be through a film, game, or publication online or offline.
  • Hate speech includes any speech, gesture, conduct, writing, display, or publication which could reasonably be construed to demonstrate an intention to be harmful, to incite harm, and promote or propagate hatred against any person or identifiable group.

Michalsons attorney Nicholas Hall said it is “very clear” that the FPB wants the ability to remove “harmful” content from the Internet.

“The FPB is actively looking for power to force content to be removed from social media,” said Hall.

Hall said the definition of “harmful” is open to political abuse.

Children accessing harmful content

The department said there is evidence which shows that inadvertent exposure and deliberate access to harmful content can lead to distress or harm to people under 18.

International benchmarking shows that attitudes about the protection of children vary considerably, it said.

Access to harmful content has moved to online sources, with mobile phones increasingly reported as a main source of inadvertent exposure and deliberate access.

“[This] convergence has forced many countries to act and explore new ways to respond to these technological developments to address child protection measures.”

Michalsons attorney Nicholas Hall (@nickhallsa) tweeted updates from the parliamentary hearings.

Now read: Saving South Africa’s Internet from the FPB

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Freedom of expression “frustrates” censorship of content harmful to children