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Carly Barnes


“Happiness is a Four-Letter Word’ a box office success


In its opening three days Happiness is a Four-Letter Word received 45 000 attendances and gross box office receipts of R2 371 782. It was the best performing film of all new releases this weekend and did better than international releases such as 13 Hours, Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Hail Caesar!, 50 Shades of Black and Trumbo. It is ranked at number three on the Top 10 after Deadpool and Vir Altyd.

Mario Dos Santos, CEO of Ster Kinekor Entertainment said: “The opening weekend’s results for the film are simply overwhelming not only from a local content perspective but also in comparison to Hollywood content. Rewarding for the whole Happiness is a Four-Letter Word team that great films get a positive response from audiences.” Ster-Kinekor has added six further screens to the current line-up in order to meet audience demand.

Based on Nozizwe Cynthia Jele’s award winning novel of the same name, Happiness is a Four-Letter Word tells the story of three close friends, perfectionist lawyer Nandi, glamorous housewife Zaza and trendy art gallery owner Princess, who all seem to be living the new South African dream but still searching for that elusive happiness they so desperately desire in their lives.

At the helm of the production team are Hard to Get producers Helena Spring and Junaid Ahmed, partnering with Bongiwe Selane. The trio put the project through an intensive three year development period in order to bring Happiness is a Four-Letter Word to South African cinemas. The film is directed by Thabang Moleya.

Rohde & Schwarz supports research on 5G

The services and applications that 5G will provide as well as the technologies will that make them possible have not yet been defined. However, even today, it is clear that it will be necessary to transmit extremely broadband signals up into the millimetre‑wave range. Rohde & Schwarz (R&S) supports the many research activities to make this spectrum usable for 5G.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which runs from 22 to 25 February, the electronics group will demonstrate generation and analysis for broadband applications in the millimetre‑wave range. The R&S SMW200A is the first vector signal generator capable of producing an internal modulation bandwidth of 2 GHz in the frequency range up to 40 GHz and can therefore implement a basic test setup without additional baseband sources. The R&S FSW signal and spectrum analyser and the R&S RTO oscilloscope make it possible to achieve a 2 GHz analysis bandwidth with a frequency range up to 85 GHz. The combination of 85 GHz and 2 GHz is unique on the market.

Another test setup can generate and analyse 5G air interface candidates. While orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) is currently used to modulate LTE downlink signals, this air interface is not capable of meeting all the demands of 5G. Possible 5G signal formats include: universal filtered multicarrier (UFMC), generalised frequency division multiplexing (GFDM), filter bank multicarrier (FBMC) and filtered OFDM (f‑OFDM). All of these options improve the form of the signal in terms of interference in the adjacent spectrum. Additionally, modified parameterisation, such as a higher subcarrier offset, enables optimal exploitation of frequencies in the millimetre‑wave range. The R&S SMW200A vector signal generator allows users to easily generate these 5G air interface candidates. R&S FS-K196 vector signal analysis software expands the capabilities of spectrum and signal analysers by adding modulation measurements for UFMC, GFDM and f‑OFDM waveforms.

The introduction of 5G will extend the bandwidth of the wanted signal. These new wireless communications channels will need to be comprehensively analysed to ensure optimal utilisation. Channel sounding is the primary analysis method. R&S offers a test solution for this as well. The R&S TS-5GCS test setup combines the new R&S TS‑5GCS channel sounding software with the R&S FSW signal and spectrum analyser and R&S SMW200A vector signal generator. This setup lets users conveniently measure channels in the new frequency bands in the centimetre and millimetre ranges. Users can select the analyser and generator based on their channel frequency and bandwidth requirements.

CaribbeanTales Incubator call for entries

The CaribbeanTales Incubator (CTI) is a year-round development and production hub for Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora producers which aims to create strong, compelling, and sustainable content for the global market. The ultimate goal of the CTI is to increase the pool of world-class, indigenous film and television content, so as to build the region’s audio visual capacity. This year the CTI is sponsored by Caribbean TV and communications provider Flow, as part of its commitment to the development of the Caribbean filmmaking industry.

The CTI’s flagship programme is the Market Incubator Program (MIP), a marketing and packaging forum for long-running series projects, which includes five weeks of online training, and one week of intensive workshops in Toronto. The MIP offers selected Caribbean and Diaspora producers an opportunity to hone their creative and business skills in the context of an international marketplace environment. The programme culminates in the Big Pitch that takes place at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Bell Lightbox, bringing together international industry delegates to vote on the best projects. Winners of the Big Pitch graduate to the nine-month CTI Production Support Program (PSP), which takes projects from pitch to production and for the first time, selected PSP projects will receive Pilot funding from Flow.

The CTI-MIP is open to filmmakers, producers, writers, animators and media practitioners from the Caribbean and its Diaspora (including the US, UK, Canada, Africa, India, South and Central America). The programme is specifically targeted towards the creation of original, long-running series content, with a focus on market sustainability. Up to 15 projects will be selected on a competitive basis based on the quality of the proposal and participants’ previous work, and/or contributions to the regional film industry.

To this end, producers interested in applying must meet the following criteria:
• The concept must have potential to be developed into a long-running series;
• The project can be either fiction, documentary or animation, and must fit into the format of either episodic film, television, or web series;
• The project must be owned or co-owned by a Caribbean national, or person of Caribbean heritage;
• The team must include at least one producer with a track record and significant production experience in film and television;
• The project must have a clear audience in the Caribbean and/or its Caribbean (including the USA, UK, Canada, Africa, India, South and Central America).

Interested applicants need to apply online. The deadline for entries is 30 April 2016.



When Thabang Moleya, the director of South African romantic comedy Happiness is a Four Letter Word, discovered what the role of a director was, he was instinctually drawn towards it. The shoe fit and now the 34-year-old is set on storytelling and making a difference.

What is your background and how has this shaped you as a director?

TM: I majored in art during high school and focused on painting and photography as my majors. I fell in love with photography and some friends and I started writing and shooting our own short films.

Describe the moment when you decided you wanted to become a director.

TM: I’ve always been a storyteller, I just didn’t know there was something called ‘directing’ but when I learned that I could do it as a career I didn’t even second guess it, it was impulsive.

Where do you find inspiration?

TM: I draw inspiration from everything and anything – from the good and the bad. I have a close circle of friends and my family keeps me motivated and inspired too.

Do you have any mentors?

TM: People I look up to that have nurtured my growth and I still seek advice from are Desiree Markgraaff and Roy Zetisky. They both played a vital role in my youth and I still ask for their advice and assistance when I feel lost.

What are your personal career milestones?

TM: Two milestones stand out for me, the first was winning Best Short Film at the Cape Town World Cinema Festival (Sithengi) and the second was when I received an iEmmy nomination under Best Drama Series – the festival in New York was an unforgettable experience.

Which projects are you currently involved in?

TM: I am a commercials director at Bouffant, so that keeps me busy. I am working on my next feature film but I’m still in the early stages of scripting. I’m also setting up an NGO aimed at empowering the youth through film and TV.

What are your least favourite parts of the job?

TM: Not being able to bring my dog on set. And an unprepared actor.

What has been your hairiest moment on set?

TM: By the time you’re on set everything is worked out. It’s the time during the preparation that can be hairy. ‘People management’ is the strongest quality a director can have; listening to ideas and taking what’s valid without letting your ego get in the way. An ego is the greatest enemy to an idea.

What are your all-time three favourite films and why?


  • City of God: they shot that film with raw, first-time actors.
  • Heat: Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in one movie is the ultimate dream for most directors.
  • Raging Bull: I’m a Martin Scorsese fan.

What’s it like directing a chick flick?

TM: Directing any genre is challenging, the most important thing I had to keep in mind was the story and to get great performances, the ‘chick flick’ genre is only a backdrop of the world we are in. Capturing a high-end glossy world was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about taste and of course shoes.

Do you feel any pressure directing a movie based on an award-winning book?

TM: It was challenging but Cynthia Jele laid a beautiful foundation for us to work with, we had to take what would work cinematically and adapt that into the story. The final script draft was a collective contribution of different ideas we had, but keeping the core ideals of the book in mind helped us narrow down what was really important and necessary.

What is the most challenging genre to direct (TV series, commercials, long form)?

TM: They are all different beasts to tackle. I don’t think one can compare them. Endurance though is vital on long form; your mind and body need to be prepared for the long haul and maintaining that focus over a lengthy duration can be very challenging and tiring.

What location would you really like to shoot at?

TM: I want to shoot all over the world, places that are rich with texture and have interesting people. I love faces and how people’s faces can tell you a story in only an image; the hardships, the trails, tribulations and victories.

Describe yourself in five years.

TM: I have a really deep passion for empowering young minds through the medium of film and TV and I believe there’s a great percentage that can’t afford these institutions. The only way to leave a legacy is by teaching others. So with that said I want to open a film school in Tembisa; I want to make films that will make people cry and fall in love; and I want to do great commercials and win awards that I will forget about. I just want to make a difference.

A re-envisioning of the creation


In the biblical book of Genesis, God creates Adam and sometime later produces Eve from his side. But according to Jewish folklore, Adam’s first wife was not Eve but a character named Lilith who was made from “filth and sediment, instead of pure dust”. This was the inspiration behind the short film Lilith Genesis One, directed by André Coetzee and produced by Anri Coetzee.

The concept was originally pitched as an entry to the PPC Imagination Awards, an art and design competition which challenges emerging talent to create artworks through the medium of concrete. The Film category, which was introduced in 2014, requires entrants to pitch their concepts to a panel of judges and if selected are given a R35 000 budget to produce their films. In 2013 Anri and André, who had just finished studying Drama and Film at the University of Pretoria together, saw the competition as an opportunity to take on a new and interesting challenge. Lilith Genesis One went on to win the top prize in the PPC Imagination Award Film category in 2015, which earned them a prize of R50 000. The film was also selected to screen at the Phoenix Film Festival in Melbourne as well as the Tanzrauschen International Dance on Screen Festival in Germany.

Raw quality

Without dialogue, and incorporating elements of dance and physicality, the narrative of the film focuses on a single event in Lilith’s universe: the creation of Adam and ultimately his release into Eden. André explains: “In the film Lilith exists in a universe of cement and brick, of which she is a part and from which she creates. She spends her infinite time alone sculpting figures and searching for a partner within her material and herself.” The roles of Lilith and Adam are performed by Nicola Haskins and Gopala Davies respectively.

Wanting to steer away from choreographed dance, the performers were given creative freedom to express themselves spontaneously through unrehearsed movement. Anri guided Haskins and Davies in ‘structured improvisation’ while communicating the style or feeling envisioned for each story segment. “We were looking for versatile performers in both the field of acting and physical theatre who were willing to bare it all for the film. They had to be comfortable with their naked bodies being covered in clay and body paint, while engaging in structured improvisation,” says André.

Cinematic cement

It was important to André and Anri that the content and cinematic techniques in the film complemented one another. Anri had completed an honours dissertation on Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of intellectual montage, a technique which edits together two or more images to portray complex ideas, and this became a source of inspiration for the delivery of Lilith Genesis One. “We approached the camera work and editing as a sort of choreography; we felt it needed a certain structure that informed and harmonised alongside the narrative and emotion of the characters. We wanted to make a film where the audience felt they could only take a breath once the film was over. This is why we made use of frequent rapid cuts, extremely close and wide shots and camera movements that complement the movements of the performers,” André explains.

Lilith Genesis One was filmed over one day in December 2014 at The Sheds in Pretoria. The film was shot using a Sony A7 for practical reasons: it can be mounted on a DJI Ronin, provides continuous focus, contains a mirrorless sensor with good lowlight capabilities and can shoot in APS-C mode.

Smooth bonds

Finding the right team to work on the project was the most challenging aspect of the production for Anri and André. “You have to work with people who share your vision, and who are capable in their respective fields. Once we found all the right collaborators on the film, everything went smoothly,” remarks André. “We were only a handful working on the project, thus everyone involved was essential to the completion and the success of the project.”

The team included visual artist Corné Joubert, who crafted the unique sculptures featured in the film. Hannes Greyling was responsible for the make-up design and application; Michael Wright composed and recorded the original score after being briefed on a general feeling of the music by Anri and André, and the emotions they wanted the film to evoke. The film was lensed by Leslie van Wyk and Timo Crane was the post-production producer. Brandon Engelbrecht helped with the conceptualising of the film and also worked as the production assistant. Wessel van Huysteen guided the production team and, in addition to directing, André also edited and executed some of the camera work.

“It is difficult to imagine what a person will take from the film. All we can hope is for it to be an experience or to spark discourse,” concludes André.

Make stories that move

Amie Mills, senior digital producer at Saatchi & Saatchi London, was drawn to the idea of interactive storytelling at a young age. At seven years old she flipped through a pick-a-path book with delightful fascination and thought: “I can read this story five ways and it’s different every time!” Mills presented a session at the 2015 PromaxBDA Africa conference titled: ‘Interactive Storytelling and the Power of the Prototype’.

Mills referenced Jeff Gomez, a US writer and transmedia producer, who explains that interactive storytelling is about creating an “architecture for dialogue” for fans to engage with the narrative. This engagement involves giving the viewer an opportunity to influence the story as they choose. “It’s about how your engagement as a viewer impacts the narrative,” says Mills. “The audience feels they are contributing to the story themselves.”

Interactive documentaries

In 2013 the film Hollow revolutionised the way in which an audience could interact with documentary content. Presented on a web-based platform, Hollow examines the effect of rural migration in America, using the residents of McDowell County in Virginia as a case study. The design of the site is simple and immersive and allows for participation from both the subjects and viewers. Mills commented that this form of storytelling lends itself to audience interactivity: “With documentaries there is so much source material, sound and audio, that you only really see the tip of the iceberg when you watch the film.”


Using an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch, players of the interactive game Lifeline are made the sole point of contact for a spaceship crash. The game, which lasts three days, unfolds in real time and the actions and outcomes of the protagonist are dependent on the choices of the gamer. An open source prototype tool was used to let players map out the story themselves.  “In the saturated games market, where there are plenty of high level graphics and images, this experience is very unique,” remarked Mills. 

Locked narrative

In 2015 Mills was involved in an interactive campaign for the launch of ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder which appeared on TV 2 in New Zealand.  A six-week iOS and Android murder mystery game was created to encourage fans of the show to participate as part of a criminal defence team tasked with clearing a client of a murder charge. The game received 8,800 downloads, a 94% return rate and the players got so involved that they began generating their own Facebook pages and fan sites. “The design of the story matters and you have to figure out ways to do it well,” said Mills. “You need to make room and allow space for people to do their own thing and put their thoughts into the mix, and you need to accommodate a diversity of voices. This is crucial to a wide appeal.”

Get raw. Get trashy. Get extreme.

According to trend specialist Tom Palmaerts of Belgian trend and marketing agency Trendwolves, there is no crystal ball to tell us what will be cool and edgy in the years to come. There is no single vision of the future – anyone with an idea for the world-to-be has the potential to make it happen. But while speaking at PromaxBDA Africa 2015 Palmaerts pointed out that in order for creatives and TV marketers to hone in and capitalise on some possible future styles, they need to start with cultural perspectives and be fluid and open to what they might inspire. Here are some of his future forecasts…


As women become more empowered in contemporary society, they are drawn more to that which is untamed and tough. Palmaerts used the example of Disney’s Frozen which forwent the traditional format of ‘boy saves girl’ and instead featured two lead heroines. Rawness is power. Rawness also celebrates the idea of proud imperfection, as can be seen in the ‘Nobody is Perfect’ campaign run by German supermarket Edeka, geared at eliminating food waste by offering customers oddly shaped B grade fruits and veggies. This theme translates to architecture, design and colours too – with earthy colours and textures placed in juxtaposition to high tech modern environments and initiatives.


“It’s a bit weird but I love this idea: beauty is mainstream,” remarked Palmaerts, who said that websites in the future may not be laid out in the same neat and crisp format. There may not even be an ‘About us’ or ‘Contact’ tab amid a collage of mismatched colours and images. According to the trend guru, ugly is the new pretty. There is a new wave of rebellion towards traditional style emerging – from chocolatiers cashing in on kitsch-cool with madly coloured gourmet chocolates to graphic designers and fashionistas opting to distinguish themselves with eccentric trashy prints and patterns.


Palmaerts predicts that people increasingly have more ambitious bucket lists. They want to do a lot, see a lot and experience a lot. This binge-like behaviour results in a see-saw of intox/detox. Give it horns for a few days in a TV series marathon or extreme warrior race and then crash in recovery with voluntary Wi-Fi withdrawal. “This means we are going to do a lot of working hard and then doing nothing,” explained Palmaerts. “We are going to therefore need food and drinks to get us past these levels.” This translates to bars without alcohol (Seriously? Yes), power foods, breakfast raves and nourishing recovery juices and waters.

Creative catch and release


Ah the elusive creative process – gut-wrenching and glorious all at the same time. Nobody knows this better than Nick McFarlane, a graphic designer and author from New Zealand who delivered a session at the recent PromaxBDA Africa on ‘Hunting the Killer Idea’. McFarlane’s work ranges from a series of illustrations of pinball machines portraying different views on contemporary society; to iconic album artwork for British electro band The Prodigy; a published book, Spinfluence, and a book in progress, Hunting the Killer Idea. His journey is one dotted with amusing anecdotes and life lessons – a few of which he shared with the eager audience of South African creatives.

Don’t accept ‘no’

When McFarlane was working in London and keen to get his work shown, he approached the Ap-art Gallery where the owner immediately rejected him, stating they were not looking to take on any new artists. He left the gallery, only to return moments later: “I turned around and marched down the road back to the smarty pants gallery owner and again he said no. I was totally bummed out after being rejected twice in 20 minutes,” he remembers. But McFarlane persisted and when he emailed the owner pictures of his art the following day he was asked to bring it in. Two days later it was sold. This would be the start of a long-term relationship with the gallery and a defining point in McFarlane’s creative career.

Anger is energy

When McFarlane started crafting Spinfluence, a book about propaganda and how it is used to control the masses, he realised that creative momentum is powered by emotionally invested energy. “You need energy or passion to push you. It pushed me to work late at night, to construct the book, to research and to create the illustrations and copy,” says McFarlane. The book took two years to write and after another five years, and numerous rejection letters from publishers, McFarlane was ready to admit defeat. But Spinfluence went on to be published and distributed globally and it was this creative endeavour that led McFarlane to Liam Howlett of The Prodigy.

Get back up

Two years ago The Prodigy was in the early process of writing a new album: The Day is my Enemy. Howlett, a member and main composer of the band, walked into the Ap-art Gallery where Spinfluence was on display and approached McFarlane to design their upcoming album cover. The concept underwent an extensive evolution over the next six months, and became a creative beast in its own right. McFarlane presented 166 ideas – involving hammers, megaphones, snakes and cars on fire – before Howlett settled on the final alluring and rebellious fox image. “It was a wicked achievement,” says McFarlane. “But I took a hiding on that project – that creative process was crazy.”

In closing, McFarlane quotes a line from a poem he has written for his new illustrated book Hunting the Killer Idea: “In the wild there will be crossroads and dead ends – you’ll have to pick yourself up and keep going.”

Virtual Reality: a whole new world

Gaming may have been the gateway, but virtual reality (VR) storytelling is now entering an arena of its own. Affordable tech such as Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Cardboard can now easily convert a smartphone into a VR viewing headset, lowering the barrier of entry to this cool medium for entertainment and all kinds of content.

What’s even more exciting is that the avenue is new and open to discovery and development, giving filmmakers and innovators anywhere in the world the opportunity to excavate the possible potential of a world in 360 degree view.

South African producer Steven Markovitz of Big World Cinema had the idea to bring together African creatives and experts in the field of VR to explore this emerging form of storytelling and the technology which enables it. In October 2015 Markovitz’ production company, Big World Cinema, together with the Goethe-Institut South Africa and with support from Blue Ice Docs and SDK Digital Lab hosted a VR exhibition ‘New Dimensions’ and various workshops involving Jessica Brillhart, the principal filmmaker for VR at Google; as well as director Oscar Raby and producer Katy Morrison from Australian VR focussed digital production company VRTOV.

According to Markovitz, the time is ripe for open minded content creators to play in this space: “We are now at a point in filmmaking where there is an oversaturation of film and images in the world. There are too many films to find a theatrical release and even less so in the US and China. In the documentary world budgets are generally not going up and it’s very difficult to find a stable way to survive in the industry. VR creates an opportunity for a new audience and a new market for storytelling.”

A new form of expression

VR is already being used in other industries such as the health, corporate and mining sectors because of its ability to change the way people experience different types of content. And the experience in itself is unique to each person, as they play a role in how the content is received.

“VR requires the audience to be active in the way they consume the content. They literally can’t sit like a couch potato – they have to move, they have to look around in order to experience the story. I think that simple factor will have a tremendous effect on the way that storytellers craft narratives for VR, and for audiences,” says Morrison. “No-one else will see the story exactly that way, because no-one else will look at exactly the same points they did, in the same order, for exactly the same amount of time. It’s a very personal medium.”

Though essentially still in its infancy, VR as a storytelling platform is already being explored by a number of creatives across the African continent. The ‘New Dimensions’ exhibition featured work from Ghanian duo Jonathan Dotse and Kabiru Seidu, co-founders of NubianVR who built their own VR rig and viewing system to show their content. “These are the kind of people we need to encourage and start working with. There is some VR being produced but very little around storytelling and narrative – that’s what we are really interested in and there is huge potential to do it,” says Markovitz.

“There is nothing like being at the forefront,” remarks Paul Sika, a software engineer and photographer, who was invited to attend ‘New Dimensions’. “Being introduced to such new technology which is going to profoundly change human experience, feels like being in a transition from one era to another. The kind of transformation that amazing technology can create. A paradigm shift is coming and it is coming fast.”


The multidisciplinary group invited to attend the workshops was handpicked by Markovitz along with guest curator and senior consultant for the Tribeca Film Institute Ingrid Kopp and Lien Heidenreich, head of cultural programmes at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg, with the idea that by bringing together people from different artistic and technological backgrounds a cross-pollination of ideas and skills could be fostered, encouraging participants to think outside the box of their normal world. “Filmmakers are not always the best people to make VR because they think in a frame not a 360 degree space,” comments Markovitz. “We wanted people who are innovating within their fields, who are accomplished to some degree already and have an open enough mind to want to try a new format in the artistic realm.”

The technology behind virtual reality, much like modern filmmaking, ranges in price and capability. Just as filmmakers across the globe and the African continent are now able to produce a film using DSLR cameras or even smartphones, a VR content creator could set up a 3D scanner with an iPad and with a good enough computer, start producing work in a 360 degree CGI space for as little as $1 000.

“I think Africa is a big place – every country has its own  dynamic and within every country there are different levels of economy and infrastructure skill so I think within all the countries of Africa there will be pockets of people who have the aptitude and access to resources,” Markovitz remarks.

But while VR has the ability to transcend both the creator and audience experience, it may run the risk of being perceived as limiting in other terms. Kopp comments: “Nnedi Okorafor made a great comment during a panel at African Futures (which ‘New Dimensions’ was part of) about how you need a plurality of stories to get the truth and I absolutely agree with her. I don’t want VR to become an exclusive, techy space that discourages participation and part of the reason for this workshop and exhibition was to make sure this doesn’t happen in Africa.”

Immersive stories

There are a few ways to create VR content. One way is the full 3D method – using a 3D scanner objects can be imported and placed into a game engine such as Unity. The viewer is then able to inhabit that 3D space in the VR experience. Another method is to take footage from an array of cameras positioned in all directions and stitch it together into a sphere which the audience member stands in the centre of.

Many people assume that VR has the ability to generate empathy purely because of its nature but Kopp believes this perception needs to be challenged. “Just because you put someone in a VR environment it does not mean they will automatically feel empathy. I’d like to see more critical discourse around craft and ethics in VR.” Morrison adds that VR instils in viewers a sense of themselves within a story or a narrative and believes that it’s less about an ability to empathise with other characters but rather about imagining yourself there with them in a particular situation.

VR could potentially mean a revolution of experiences – viewing devices could become household necessities and we could soon be sitting beside our favourite characters while the action unfolds around us in a film. The possibilities are quite limitless and as the rules are formed there will be creative frontrunners working out ways to break them.

Sika concludes, “What I love about VR is the great proximity we can create for the user and the capacity to represent universes that are interesting in many ways rather than having one single point of view and path like in 2D filmmaking. This is the closest we have to the ‘immersiveness’ of dreams and it can evoke very strong emotions.”

Content regulation in the online space

On 4 March 2015 the Draft Online Regulation Policy was released by the Film and Publications Board (FPB) and was published for public comment in the Government Gazette. According to the FPB the policy was brought about to establish a framework for content which is distributed online.

As described in the draft, this content includes films, games and publications as defined in the Films & Publications Act of 1996. The Act also defines publications to include content uploaded on the internet through social networks and this includes self-generated content uploaded or posted on social media platforms.

A backlash reaction from the public as well as a number of organisations ensued, resulting in petitions against the policy and accusations that it would threaten South Africans’ right to freedom of speech. The Draft Online Regulation Policy will soon go before cabinet and, according to the FPB, a final draft will be released before July 2016.

Though some may agree that there is a need for some kind of content regulation in the digital space, the terms in the policy have been criticised as being too broad, and with video and film distributors looking more and more to the online space as a primary platform for distribution there are concerns as to how this will affect content creators in the industry. Filmmakers and video content creators operate in a very competitive environment where if the release of their work is delayed it may no longer be relevant or compelling. Consider breaking news footage or a film with a time-dependant plot.

FPB chief operations officer Sipho Risiba says these factors have been taken into consideration. “We took the decision to come up with co-regulation, which will allow registered and accredited filmmakers, distributors and producers to self-classify their material using our act and classification guidelines, under the regulatory oversight of the FPB. From time to time we will conduct industry audits to check that indeed our guidelines are being used in accordance with the Act and to ensure that publishers are registered because not everyone will have access to our logo,” he explains. As the Act already exempts content published by Press Council members the draft policy has since been amended to extend this exemption to online publications by such publishers.

But Micah Reddy, an organiser with the Right2Know campaign, says that distributors could face heavy registration fees in order to have their content classified and believes that any classification which takes place prior to publishing is censorship.

“If our constitutionally-enshrined freedom of expression and freedom to impart and receive information are to be respected, then publishers should be free to publish and be damned. There are instances where prior restraint of publication is legitimate – for example through a court interdict – in order to prevent a grave injustice, but this is something that must be used in an extremely circumscribed way,” comments Reddy.

With regard to social media and pre-classification Risiba refers to the controversial YouTube clip posted by Rabboni Ministries, which showed congregation members eating grass. Following complaints about the video, the FPB submitted a compliance notice to Google requesting that the video be rated as unsuitable for children under the age of 13 or removed because it contained imitative acts, and the video was taken down.

“Section 16 of the Act basically says that you don’t have to submit for pre-distribution before you post for classification but that if you post something and the next person is offended, that person would have a right to lay a complaint with the FPB. Then, if we feel the complaint has merit, we can put together a committee that would look into the complaint,” comments Risiba.

Section 16 of the Act also outlines certain restrictions such as the propaganda of war or the incitement of violence and hate speech, which require publishers to submit content for pre-publication classification as it is outlawed and prohibited – unless it is a documentary of scientific or artistic merit or is matter of public interest. Risiba further remarks, “In the main, there is no obligation for any person to submit any posts for Twitter for instance – that would be a restriction to the right to freedom of speech and we don’t want that. People should be able to engage.”

The new policy could have additional consequences for distributors and filmmakers, who according to Risiba will no longer be able to claim ignorance on issues of regulation and classification as they will now be clearly outlined. Without wanting to create barriers to market entry or impede their entrepreneurial endeavours, the FPB aims to hold more content creators responsible for what they produce online. “I think over the years we have been soft on distributors mainly because we felt that we hadn’t done enough in terms of advocacy, public awareness and education,” says Risiba. “With this policy no one can be ignorant and say they don’t know. By now it has been widely publicised. We’ve now opened up channels for communication and engagement that will create a lot of access.”

Reddy maintains that there is already a regulation framework for online content. Websites like YouTube have community guidelines which are quite effectively enforced and illegal conduct online is prosecutable. He adds: “Any regulation of the internet itself must be light touch regulation and must meet the test of not unjustifiably infringing on free expression.”

Risiba concludes: “The FPB has never claimed to have a magic wand to address all online challenges hence the policy strongly advocates cooperation and co-regulation. To this end, the FPB welcomes the efforts and technological contributions by industry to ensure protection of children from harmful online content. That being said, the FPB still has a responsibility to create a regulatory framework for content regulation in the country.”

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