Scrap online censorship plan - Right2Know

(Lohanna Hoffmann)
(Lohanna Hoffmann)

Cape Town - Civil society watchdog, The Right2Know Campaign, is demanding that the Film and Publications Board (FPB) put aside a controversial draft on internet regulation.

Internet censorship looms for all South African websites, internet publications and blogs in a draft Online Regulation Policy gazetted by the FPB.

The draft policy, which has been gazetted for public comment, requires that online distributors must have digital content classified in terms of the board’s guidelines.

This means that content producers would have to apply and pay for classification before their content is made available online.

The FPB said it is does not want children to be exposed to unclassified content via the internet while the board has also raised concerns over user-generated content of an offensive nature such as racism.

However, Right2Know wants the FPB to stop what it calls an attempt to exercise “pre-publication censorship” of the internet in South Africa.

According to the Right2Know Campaign, the censorship regulations could infringe on the South African public’s right to freely get information – as well as to impart information – a right enshrined in the South African Constitution.

“The target of this regulation is not just major distributors, but also individuals,” says the Right2Know Campaign.

“In terms of the wording of the document, everything published on the internet – including blogs, personal websites and Facebook pages”.

Online distribution agreement

The Right2Know Campaign has further hit out at the planned classification of online content.

“This effectively is a specific form of pre-publication censorship, which is not acceptable,” says the Right2Know Campaign.

“Moreover, the time spent on the pre-classification of content would undermine one of the most valuable traits of the internet – its immediacy. There is also a very real threat that in the future, organisations lacking in resources and unable to afford costly subscription fees, such as community-oriented news outlets and civil society groups, will be severely hampered by the unnecessarily bureaucratic regulations envisioned by the FPB.

“These online media outlets provide a valuable contribution to the diversity of the South African media landscape,” said Right2Know

‘Classifiers’ dispatched to your premises

The Right2Know Campaign says that “worryingly, the regulations would allow the FPB to dispatch classifiers to the distributors’ premises for the purposes of classifying digital content.”

Furthermore “distributors would have to ensure that the work of classifiers takes place unhindered and without interference.”

“The vague wording of the regulations would allow for ‘classifiers’ to visit, for example, the homes of citizen journalists and ordinary internet users. Such sweeping powers reek of apartheid-era censorship, whose advocates similarly relied on the guise of moralising arguments,” says the Right2Know Campaign.

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