More than 14 000 people have signed an online petition launched on Thursday against the Film and Publication Board’s (FPB) draft online regulations.
“A new set of regulations threatens the very essence of our internet freedom. They want to police and crack down on our digital democracy – but we are thousands of South Africans getting this email and we have the power to bring down their barricades,” Avaaz said in an email sent to its members.
Avaaz launched in 2007 as an online mechanism to organise citizens around the world to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues.
It has more than 41 million members worldwide in 194 countries.
“If the Film and Publication Board’s new internet regulations are implemented, they’d have the right to review and classify almost every blog, video, and personal website – even Avaaz campaigns like this one. Think apartheid-era censorship, reloaded and super-charged for an all-out assault on our digital freedoms.”
‘Giant, defiant NO!’
Avaaz said public consultations end this week, and the FPB was on the back foot because their regulations had been so “widely ridiculed”.
“A massive viral response could finally pull the plug on these dangerous regulations. Let’s race to 30 000 names to defend our internet and storm the consultations with a giant, defiant ‘NO!’.”
Avaaz said practically speaking, it would be almost impossible for these rules to be enforced all the time, but they could be used to selectively block specific types of information, control what is made public, and “even criminalise” certain users.
“In addition, people wanting to publish online would have to buy a costly subscription, limiting who can post on the web and what information we see,” the campaign website said.
“The FPB says its regulations are designed to protect children and citizens from harmful content. But while protection is important, there are already laws designed to do that – these new rules would only serve to stifle expression and empower those who’d do anything to increase secrecy in our country.”
By late Thursday afternoon, 14 657 people had signed the petition. Civil society watchdog Right2Know has said the proposed move by the FPB is a form of censorship.
Deal struck on press content
On July 14, it was announced the Film and Publications Board (FPB) had agreed in principle to defer the regulation of online press content to the Press Council of South Africa.In a joint statement from the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau of South Africa), Sanef (South African National Editors’ Forum) and the Press Council, the organisations say that the FPB endorsed the revised Press Code which would regulate online press content in SA.
While the FPB would continue to hear proposals regarding online content as it developed policy, the agreement between the organisations would cover the publication of content produced by media members of the Press Council.
“The exemption granted to the Press Council in respect of self-regulation is explicitly recognised in the Films and Publications Act and the FPB remains the entity which has the ultimate authority to regulate content as set out in the act,” Dominic Cull, Ispa regulatory adviser told Fin24 about the agreement.
The exemption of online content granted to the Press Council mirrors that enjoyed by traditional print publication regulation in SA.
“Section 16 of the Films and Publications Act (FPA) currently exempts publishers of newspapers and magazines recognised by the Press Ombudsman (and which subscribe to the Press Code) from the FPB classification requirements that apply generally to all other forms of publication,” said the statement.
However, the agreement presented a definitive move forward for online media publication in SA.
“The next step is to finalise the code in the constitution and reconstitute the Press Council,” Andrew Allison, head of the Regulatory Affairs for the IAB, told Fin24.
The FPB had been under pressure following the publication of its draft proposals that sought to regulate all online content in SA, including any “film, game or certain publication” that would include classification of material on international platforms such as Facebook and Google.
However, the agreement did not cover non-press content and the FPB would continue to hear submissions regarding its draft regulations.
Despite that, it was unlikely that non-press content would see significantly different standards in terms of how the material was regulated.
“I don’t think there’ll be different tiers. We’ve had positive confirmation from the Film and Publications Board CEO that the current exemption that applies to the press will be extended to general press content irrespective of the medium in which it is published,” Allison said.