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APC joins South African civil society groups in opposing internet content regulation proposed by South Africa’s Film and Publication Board.
If implemented, the Draft Online Regulation Policy proposed by the South African Film and Publication Board (FPB) would, under the guise of child protection, pose serious threats to online freedom of expression. It would involve policing content published on the internet – including blogs, personal websites and Facebook pages. APC joins the many South African civil society and broader communications sector voices that are expressing their concern about the proposed regulations.
Under the Draft Online Regulation Policy, the Film and Publication Board would have the power to “refer any self-generated video that is found to contain classifiable elements for classification to its classification committee, instruct the distributor to take down the unclassified content and only reinstate it after having complied with the FPB classification decision.” This is tantamount to giving the Film and Publication Board the power to effectively censor any Facebook post, Twitter ‘tweet’, YouTube video, or any other user-generated internet content created by any South African.
Aside from the fact that this power would be open to abuse – for example, for censoring political speech, or censoring content created for the purpose of sex education or promoting the interests of LGBT groups – it would be impossible to ensure compliance with the policy. It would place additional burdens on all internet users and intermediaries (companies and organisations that host internet content), particularly small and medium enterprises.
At a sector meeting convened by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the SOS Coalition, the Right2Know (R2K) Campaign and the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) on Friday 22 May in Johannesburg, there was consensus that the draft regulation policy must be scrapped. The participating civil society groups, media organisations, library associations and internet and telecommunications industry associations all agreed that the proposed regulations pose a serious threat not just to online freedom of expression and association, but also to local internet-based innovation, content development and job creation.
Child safety, one of the primary objectives of the proposed regulations, is very important. However, there are other more effective strategies and mechanisms to ensure the protection of children in the online environment that do not require pre-publication censorship.
The internet can be a powerful tool in protecting children from harm. Should the proposed draft regulations be adopted, we would be creating an internet which children cannot fully utilise to protect themselves from harm, both online and offline. The question of values in the draft regulations is particularly problematic. We must be careful that the values used in imposing internet control in children’s so-called best interests do not end up fundamentally depriving children of all sorts of rights that should be available to them.
Children have, for example, the right to information: this includes information about relationships, sexual orientation, safe sex, sexual abuse, and a whole range of topics involving sex. Content that may be useful to children dealing with sexual orientation, the challenges of puberty, love, longing and abuse could easily become the target of the regulations.
Join us in rejecting these regulations by supporting the Right2Know petition! and by submitting your own comments to the FPB. Submissions should be emailed to email@example.com or hand delivered to the FPB head office at ECO Glade 2, 420 Witch Hazel Street, ECO Park, Centurion, 0169 and marked for attention Ms. Tholoana Ncheke.
The next public meeting convened by APC, R2K, SOS and FXI will take place on 28 May at Civicus House in Newtown at 13h30. After the meeting, participants will move on to the public consultation convened by the Film and Publication Board:
Venue: Turbine Hall Newtown, 65 Ntemi Piliso Street, Johannesburg
Date: 28 May 2015