South Africa approaches online content censorship


The Film and Publications Board (FPB) plans to extend its regulatory reach to the digital space and, in a draft policy document, proposes that all online content distributed in South Africa must be classified by March 2016.

However, concerns have arisen around the agency drafting an online regulation policy without consulting stakeholders.

According to the Mail & Guardian – who have seen the draft policy – the document states that as of 31 March 2016, no one will be allowed to distribute digital content in South Africa unless it is classified in terms of the FPB’s guidelines, or a system accredited by the FPB, and aligned to its classification guidelines, and the Film and Publications Act and its classifications. In addition, the FPB logo must be blatantly visible.

The regulation would apply to major corporates such as Google and Apple, who face “sanctions’ if they don’t comply, but it could also affect bloggers and individuals posting video clips online.

The primary mandate of the FPB is to protect children from exposure to disturbing and harmful material; to make punishable the use of children in pornography as well as the exposure of children to pornography; and to provide advice to assist adults and their dependents to make informed viewing, reading and gaming choices.

According to the draft policy, anyone who wants to distribute a film, game or certain publications online – including online distributors of digital film – will need to apply for an online distribution agreement and pay a prescribed fee which is to be determined by the minister.

According to the Mail & Guardian, the document states, “In all classification decisions for digital content, the online distributor must ensure that the board’s classification decision and logo is conspicuously displayed on the landing page of the website, the website catalogue of the online distributor’s landing page of the website, at the point of sale and during the streaming of the digital content.’

Sipho Risiba, the chief operations officer of the board, said it would apply to all online distributors, except for newspapers regulated by the Press Council.

“Although the Act exempts broadcasters who broadcast content via satellite, except for the broadcast of X18 material/pornography, broadcasters who also stream content online via the internet will have to comply with this policy,’ he said.

The draft policy states that the board has entered “transitional’ agreements with numerous online distributors in South Africa who are using classification rating systems that are not aligned with the board’s guidelines.

According to the draft policy, sanctions can be used as a last resort to prevent industry classifiers from repeatedly making misleading or incorrect classification decisions.

For self-generated content, the draft policy says the board will have the power to order an online administrator or any online platform to remove content that is deemed harmful to children. If the content is a video clip on a global platform such as YouTube, the board can refer it to its classification committee for classification.

It will be final and binding and the online distributor will be billed for the classification decision and, if not paid, could result in legal action being taken against the distributor.

According to the Mail & Guardian, the board said the draft policy had been sent to all major online distributors. Companies such as Google, MTN, Vodacom, Times Media and MultiChoice have received the policy but would not comment as they are studying the document.

Risiba said, “The policy is not released or approved as yet. What we have is a draft policy that was sent to distributors for comments and inputs.’

“Workshops with industry and stakeholders are also planned for the months of January and February 2015. Thereafter, the draft will be tabled before [the FPB] council in March 2015 for final approval.’

He said the document would be made public thereafter and that global best practice had been observed in drafting the policy.

Source: Mail & Guardian

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Chanelle Ellaya
Chanelle Ellaya is the editor of Screen Africa. She completed her BA Journalism degree at the University of Johannesburg in 2011. While writing is her passion, she has a keen interest in the media in various capacities. Chanelle is an avid social media networker and a firm believer in the power of social and online networking. Between writing and tweeting, she finds time to feed her love for live music.


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