How South Africa’s new controversial ‘internet censorship’ laws will impact you

President Cyril Ramaphosa signed off on the controversial Films and Publications Amendment Act in October 2019.

Described in the media as the “internet censorship bill”, the Act will now officially come into operation on a future date to be declared by the President, says Peter Grealy of law firm Webber Wentzel.

Grealy said that among other changes, the Act introduces significant changes to our law, including the regulation of harmful content and hate speech.

It also regulates commercial distributors of content (including people who distribute content online for commercial purposes) as well as non-commercial distributors (who distribute content for their own private use).

The Act also places new obligations on internet service providers (ISPs) to remove and report certain content or be subject to a fine, he said.

How you will be impacted

The Act regulates content uploaded by social media users, bloggers and influencers, Grealy said.

“There are criminal penalties for distributing content that amounts to propaganda for war, incites violence or which advocates hatred against a person or an identifiable group or which amounts to child pornography.

“In a welcome step, the Act criminalises the intentional distribution of private sexual photographs/films without the prior consent of the subject of such photographs and/or films,” he said.

Grealy said that any Internet Service Provider (ISP) who has knowledge that its services are being used for the distribution or hosting of content that incites imminent violence; propaganda for war; advocates hatred against a person or an identifiable group or amounts to child pornography must:

  • Immediately remove the content; and
  • Furnish the Film and Publications Board, or a member of the South African Police Services, with information of the identity of the person who published the prohibited ​content.

“A failure to do so could result in a fine not exceeding R50,000 and/or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months,” he said.


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How South Africa’s new controversial ‘internet censorship’ laws will impact you