The Right to Know campaign (R2K) is petitioning against the proposed changes to the Film and Publication Amendment Bill, tabled in parliament on Tuesday. R2K’s national spokesperson, Murray Hunter, said the bill “raises real questions about what our government can regulate.” R2K have launched the #HandsOffOurInternet campaign, in response to the bill, which could now see tighter control over the use of the web.
“This bill is part of a range of proposals we have seen tabled in the last year or two, which are seeking to give government greater control over the internet and online communication,” Hunter explained.
The minister of communications has said that the Bill does not create a new regulatory regime, but seeks to strengthen the law by closing the gaps identified in the Films and Publications Act in relation to online content regulation. According to the department, there is an emergence and avalanche of explicitly sexual and violent content brought in by the new media push and cyberspace that has no physical borders; some of the same content is delivered via traditional distribution platform.
Hunter explained that the ratification of the bill will provide the Film and Publications Board, which is responsible for parental guidance regulations of South African television programming, the power to control what citizen’s post on social media, news media, and the internet in general.
Hunter, furthermore, asserts that this bill will result in citizens questioning the right of the government to censor information on the internet and whether or not censorship is desirable.
“Government is not engaging in this debate about whether or not this is desirable, it is just [the governments] assumption,” Hunter noted.
In response to the question of licensing requirements and costs, in the event of the adoption of the bill, the Film and Publications Board has indicated that the scope of the bill is limited to filming companies and official content released onto the internet. Subsequently, indicating that individuals will not be subjected to the process.
The Board is, however, planning to inspect social-media platforms in order to ensure that content is appropriate and safe for consumption.
Hunter, however, explains that there is a range of responses from the Film and Media Board that needs to be “interrogated closely.”
#HandsOffOurInternet was in fact initiated in response to the draft regulations that were published, which would have, “in paper at least”, the power to censor internet information of all citizens.
There was, therefore, no distinction between ordinary users and official institutions. The bill would, therefore, grant government “far-reaching powers.”
“It is not enough to say that the law was not referring to everyone, one should always look at the worst possible application of the law before you approve a law,” he urged.
Hunter explained that the Film and Publication Board received much criticism for its draft regulations.
The concerns of the Film and Publications Board, issues such as child-pornography and hate-speech are real concerns. He is, however, of the opinion that censorship will spread to other areas of the internet.
Mechanisms to deal with a number of issues raised by the Film and Publications Board, Hunter explains, have been adopted.
“Facebook itself has a mechanism through which you can report [hate-speech and child-pornography], and get it taken down immediately,” he asserted.
Hunter, therefore, questions whether or not it is necessary for the government to instate additional mechanisms.
“We are seeing a concerted effort across different platforms in policing of the internet.”
These efforts are evident in the established of the Online Regulations Publications Board and the draft of cybercrimes law, which will grant state-security powers to police the internet. These powers, hunter explains, can be “detrimental to online freedom.”
“In other places in Africa and Europe, we have seen states become much more involved in internet governance. Inevitably, when things become politically contested, there is always the option where states can use these kinds of policies to start controlling politically,” Hunter concluded.