South Africa has introduced new internet censorship laws – what you should know

President Cyril Ramaphosa approved the Films and Publications Amendment (FPA) Act in February with the new laws coming into effect from 1 March 2022.

The changes come due to the significant changes in the way that films, videogames, and certain publications are distributed in the country, the Film and Publications Board (FPB) said in a media briefing on Thursday (3 March).

This reflects the move away from physical distribution in cinemas and home DVDs to the online space, streaming services, and social media, it said.

“The Amendment Act is set to transform the FPB completely, expanding its mandate and migrating it from a simple classification authority to a fully-fledged regulator, with the legitimate powers to issue and renew licences (certificates), accredit distributors and impose fines, in case of non-compliance.”

The Amendment Act comes into operation at a time when governments all over the world are grappling with the escalation in potentially harmful content on digital platforms, as we witness the entrenchment of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in society, said deputy minister of communications Philly Mapulane in a Thursday media briefing (3 March).

“Changes to the FPA Act seeks to modernise laws that protect the South African public from exposure to prohibited content distributed online, as well as exposure of children to harmful digital content that could have adverse psychological and behavioural impacts.

“Laws are enacted to give effect to the rights enshrined in the Constitution. The FPA Act seeks to balance the right to freedom of expression with the responsibility to protect our citizens from harm and to maintain social cohesion.”

Some of the key changes introduced through the new legislation include:

  • The Act will give the FPB power to regulate almost all online content published in South Africa – not just the movies and television it has previously regulated;
  • All online distributors will be required to register with, and submit all content to the FPB for classification;
  • Alternatively, online distributors will have to apply to the FPB’s Council for self-classification accreditation or for approval to use the classification ratings issued by a foreign or international classification authority;
  • No person may expose, through any medium, including the internet and social media, a private sexual photograph (revenge pornography);
  • Any person who knowingly distributes ‘hate speech’ in any medium which amounts to propaganda for war, incites imminent violence, or advocates hate speech, shall be guilty of an offence;
  • If an internet access provider has knowledge that its services are being used for the hosting or distribution of child pornography, propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence or advocating hatred based on an identifiable group characteristic it shall immediately remove this content, or be subject to a fine.

“Operationally we have started gearing and repositioning ourselves to the provisions of the Amendment Act,” said Film and Publication Board acting chief executive Mashilo Boloka

“There is a process underway to streamline the internal functions so as to elevate the mandate. Our medium-term strategy and annual plan for next financial year, which will be tabled by the minister in parliament later this month (March), adequately reflects our strategic shift and focus to this expanded mandate.”

“The days of regulating the industry through will and agreements is over. As the regulator, we now have sharp teeth to bite.”


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South Africa has introduced new internet censorship laws – what you should know