Government explains how South Africa’s new ‘internet censorship bill’ will work

Deputy minister of communications, Pinky Kekana, has reiterated that the Films and Publications Amendment Bill is not about censoring society, but is instead about rooting out the possession and distribution of child pornography.

“The bill does not concern itself with what citizens may publish on social media. However, it empowers the Film and Publication Board (FPB) to facilitate the removal of child pornography wherever it is published,” Kekana said.

Presenting the Films and Publications Amendment Bill to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Wednesday, Kekana noted that from its conception, the FPB was not meant to ban any films or publication but furnish members of society with information about the nature and substance of the content they are about to consume.

“With the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, the manner in which we consume films or publications has drastically changed. Content is not viewed only via cinema or DVD anymore. It is now viewed on digital platforms via online streaming facilities [and] this has created a gap in the regulatory framework.

“Citizens, especially children, can now access content, which has not been classified and labelled. Furthermore, we have seen that games, which our citizens, children in particular, consume, need to be appropriately classified,” Kekana said.

Although the bill criminalises possession of child pornography, Kekana said this is not done out of its own accord.

“The criminalisation arises as a result of the primary legislation in so far as sexual crimes are concerned, namely the Sexual Offences Act. It therefore became necessary to align the definition of child pornography with the Sexual Offences Act.

“In that same vein, the regulation of digital platforms is the domain of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act inter alia. This bill has to align itself to the provision of those acts,” she said.

She added that the bill tries to deal with some regulatory gaps – including the lack of effective enforcement of the provisions of the act and stemming out non-compliance amongst distributors.

‘The Censorship Bill’

Dubbed the ‘internet censorship bill’ by its critics, the bill had previously come under scrutiny from members of industry and the public over concerns that it would be used as a means of censorship for online content.

This includes specific instances where the FPB will be allowed to regulate user-generated content (such as YouTube videos, pictures, and music), and possibly even block non-compliant online distributors at an ISP level.

Speaking to BusinessTech in March, legal expert and long time opponent of the bill, Nicholas Hall, said that it is intended to extend the powers of the FPB to allow it to properly classify content distributed through the internet.

“While technically it is not censorship, it can have the effect of censoring certain content, as seen with (the movie) Inxeba,” he said.

Hall said that the FPB now has the power to classify and potentially ban films, games and ‘other publications’.

Other publications are defined as:

  • Any newspaper, book, periodical, pamphlet, poster or other printed matter;
  • Any writing or typescript which has in any manner been duplicated;
  • Any drawing, picture, illustration or painting;
  • Any print, photograph, engraving or lithograph;
  • Any record, magnetic tape, soundtrack or any other object in or on which sound has been recorded for reproduction;
  • Computer software which is not a film;
  • The cover or packaging of a film;
  • Any figure, carving, statue or model; and
  • Any message or communication, including a visual presentation, placed on any distributed network including, but not confined to, the internet.

Read: Parliament has passed the ‘internet censorship’ bill – here’s what it means for you

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Government explains how South Africa’s new ‘internet censorship bill’ will work