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Online content regulations proposed in South Africa

Online content regulations proposed in South Africa

Film and Publication Board has released a draft Online Regulation Policy in South Africa. The aim of the policy is to classify and regulate all of digital content that is uploaded online, while targeting hate speech, racism, pornography and any sensitive content  deemed inappropriate for children.  Although this most observers agree the stated cause is noble, the vague langue used to define the policy and strict governing guidelines affecting the freedom of speech have many worried.

Cautionary warnings were expressed during the public consultation phase by group R2K (Right to Know), who  call the bill “a totally unjustifiable censorship regime with nasty echoes from the past”.

Broad scope of the regulations would allow the FPB to censor internet users on blogging and social media platforms as the vague language of the bill extends the regulation to all publications. The press will be be excluded because FPB agreed to pass on the regulation of online press content to the jurisdiction of Press Council of South Africa.

The legislation as drafted asks to self-report any content published, licences to be payed and information rated to meet certain standards. If not reported/ licensed content can be taken down, fines issued and other penalties imposed.

“There can be no doubt that this creates the potential for serious restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, and hinders the ease with which individuals, businesses and the media can share information and ideas online,” R2K exec says.

Democratic Alliance Minister Gavin Davis, listed several concerns regarding the proposal, namely broadness of terms used in the policy proposal, which could open doors for state to proscribe content that does not fit government agenda. Further, censorship and regulation of content would possibly be infringing on constitutional right to freedom of expression, end up being very costly and difficult to monitor.

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