Don't censor free speech, ConCourt told
Johannesburg - Compelling people to obtain approval before they could tweet, Facebook or blog on anything relating to sexual conduct would silence all online expression on the topic, the Constitutional Court heard on Tuesday.
If amendments to Section 16 of the Film and Publications Act stayed in place, this would mean that even cartoons such as Zapiro's series on the "rape" of lady justice, or an arbitrary blogger's observations on a report that a politician was caught with a prostitute, would have to be pre-classified.
This was argument submitted by an organisation called Section 16, who are friends of the court in an application to have Section 16(1), Section 16(2) and Section 24(2) of the Film and Publications Act confirmed invalid.
These require that all publications, excluding newspapers, must pre-classify any material that contains sexual conduct.
The act came into force in March 2010.
The applicants - Print Media SA and the SA National Editors Forum - believe large numbers of publications will have to be submitted to the Film and Publications Board in matters of substantial public interest.
It will have severe negative consequences for the publication in terms of deadlines, and for the public.
The parties are also questioning why newspapers were given an exemption, because they fall under the self-regulatory system of an ombudsman and a Press Code, but not magazines.
Describing possible scenarios of online publication, Section 16 lawyer Shannon Steyn said the objective of protecting children was not in question, but a debate on a topic relating to sexual conduct in a chatroom or on Twitter would have to be pre-classified comment by comment, and would lead to self-censorship.
She submitted that this was not in line with South Africa's fundamental right of freedom of expression.
She likened the amendments to "burning down the house to roast the pig".
The case continues.