Impingement on Free Speech – South Africa

Words by Simeon Gready - July 2015

Earlier this year, South Africa’s Film and Publication Board’s (FPB) released their Draft Online Regulation Policy. The proposed regulations of this policy have huge implications for freedom of expression in South Africa, which can be summarised into the following:

• The policy claims to apply to films, games and ‘certain publications,’ amounting to vague language and definitions that allow it cover anyone publishing anything on the Internet.

• The policy allows for regulation of private personal communication to the extent that individuals may be prosecuted using their right to freedom of expression.

• The policy states that anyone wishing to publish content on the Internet need to apply and pay for an agreement with the FPB, meaning that individuals would be required to pay for their fundamental human right to freedom of expression.

• The policy further violates freedom of expression in that it asserts that it retains the right to take down ‘violent’ content published by media outlets, thereby disenabling the media the ability to carry out its social responsibilities.

• The policy allows ‘classifiers’ from the FPB to search distributer’s premises, unhindered and with no responsibility for loss or damage.

Finally, in the aftermath of the publication, the FPB criticised groups such as Right2Know for ‘over-reacting’ in their response to the policy (e.g. this petition), despite the FPB firstly encouraging public debate on the policy as well as the fact that these groups are well within their freedom of expression rights to contest and campaign against such regulations.

Worryingly, it has recently been announced that this policy has been approved to inform a new film and publications amendment bill. If signed into law, the repressive tactics outlined above could become a reality for South African citizens.