The Draft Online Regulation Policy proposed by the Film and Publication Board (FPB) is far-reaching and absolute in its censorship, with little clarity on practical implementation.
This is according to commentators on a recent Carte Blanche insert about the Internet censorship which will accompany the bill.
The FPB published its Draft Online Regulation Policy in the Government Gazette of 4 March 2015.
In August 2015, the South African Cabinet approved the introduction of a Films and Publications Amendment Bill into the Parliamentary process.
FPB CEO Themba Wakashe said the bill is needed to fight undesirable content, which includes racism, child pornography, and bullying.
Africa’s Worst New Internet Censorship Law
The bill has been widely criticised, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation calling it Africa’s Worst New Internet Censorship Law.
The FPB’s proposed Online Regulation Policy takes aim at all online content, including YouTube videos, online games, and “certain publications”.
Certain parts of the policy, the EFF warns, are particularly worrying as they give the FPB unrestricted powers over online content.
“With regard to any other content distributed online, the Board shall have the power to order an administrator of any online platform to take down any content that the Board may deem to be potentially harmful and disturbing to children of certain ages,” states the FPB.
FPB’s Online Regulation Policy slated
Many South Africans have also criticised the bill, including Micah Reddy from the Right2Know campaign.
“What the FPB is trying to do is to give itself sweeping power, which it does not have in terms of the law, to regulate and censor online content,” he said.
Media Law consultant Justine Limpitlaw said the new bill is a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression.
Media personality Gareth Cliff said it is despicable that the FPB and others will use children as shields before freedom of expression.
“The biggest problem is that there are people who want to use children to put their own agenda in front of everybody else and our constitution. How dare they,” said Cliff.
Cliff said the proposed regulations are not enforceable, and will end up in court. “Ultimately, freedom of expression will win, because people cannot be silenced anymore.”
The true debate has not started yet
Ellipsis director and regulatory expert Dominic Cull highlighted that it is not significant that the bill has been approved by Cabinet.
“The debate only begins when the bill is introduced in Parliament,” said Cull. “Don’t expect the bill to look the same coming out as it did going in.”
Cull said the process of drafting an online content regulation policy will essentially start again after it is debated in Parliament.
Despite these processes, Wakashe is confident the regulations will kick in in 2016. “I want it to kick in April next year,” he said.