The DA intends to raise objections to a number of clauses in a bill intended to give the Films and Publications Board (FPB) wide-sweeping powers to censor the Internet.
The DA said that if the bill is pushed through Parliament without consideration, it will damage free speech.
Introduced in Parliament in November, the FBP Amendment Bill seeks to extend the reach of the FPB to include online content.
The FPB will also establish a “Penalty Committee” with powers to impose fines and criminal prosecution of those deemed to have contravened its provisions.
Fines up to R150,000 or imprisonment by a court of law for a person who “knowingly distributes, in any electronic medium, including the Internet and social networking sites, any film, game, or publication which advocates propaganda for war, incites violence, or advocates hate speech” is on the cards.
“Such wide-ranging powers of censorship over all social media posts need to be carefully considered and worded in such a way that it would prevent it being abused by the government to censor and curb free speech,” said the DA.
“A clear distinction must be made between free speech and hate speech as defined in the Constitution.”
The DA added that other problematic clauses of the Amendment Bill include:
- S5 which gives the Minister the power to appoint the Penalty Committee in consultation with Cabinet. The Penalty Committee will have amongst other powers, the right to impose fines of up to R150,000 and refer cases for prosecution for contraventions of the FPB Act. A body with such powers should be appointed in consultation with Parliament, and not the Minister and Cabinet to prevent a situation where the Penalty Committee becomes a political hit-squad.
- S6B(1) which gives the CEO of the FPB undue influence in deciding the sanctions of the Penalty Committee, as well as decisions for criminal prosecution. The Penalty Committee should remain entirely independent, and not operate under any influence of the CEO, to prevent bias, perceived or otherwise.
- S18 usurps the powers of ICASA, and oversteps the FPB’s mandate, by stating that ICASA may not issue or renew any broadcasting licence to a broadcaster which also streams content through the Internet, unless such broadcaster is also registered with the Board as a distributor. This creates an unnecessary duplication of administration and regulation.
The DA did welcome that the Amendment Bill seeks to outlaw revenge porn.