Minister commits to no internet censorship in final FPB regulations and extends deadline for public comments

Issued by Phumzile Van Damme MP – DA Shadow Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies
18 Aug 2020 in News

Kindly find attached an English soundbite by Phumzile Van Damme MP.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has today committed to ensuring that the final version of so-called “internet censorship” regulations will not infringe on the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

This was in response to a question posed by the Democratic Alliance (DA) to her this morning in a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Communications and Digital Technologies as to whether Government would go ahead with the proposed regulation of online content as contained in the Draft Films and Publications Amendment Regulations, which would have the effect of infringing on the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

She has further indicated that the period of public comment has been extended by an additional 30 days to 17 September 2020.

In terms of the regulations, all online distributors will be required to register with, and submit all content to the Films and Publications Board (FPB) for classification. In terms of s6(1) of the draft regulations:

“Any person, other than the publisher who is a member of the Press Council of South Africa or an advertiser who is a member of the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa, who intends to publish for distribution or exhibition, or to distribute or exhibit, a publication contemplated in section 16 (2) of the Act, shall submit the publication to the FPB together with the relevant Form provided by the FPB, and the prescribed fee, for examination and classification, before it may be distributed or exhibited within the Republic.”

This would give Government the power to regulate online user-generated content. The effect of this would mean, as an example, an individual would have to submit to the FPB a video for vetting, classification before uploading it on YouTube, TikTok, Facebook Twitter and other online platforms at a cost of R415 or face imprisonment up to eight months or a fine of up to R150 000.

Online platforms like YouTube have their own self-regulation and remove content that does not meet their standards. There is therefore absolutely no need for Government to have this power.

We thank the public for submitting comments on the regulations and will ensure that those are all duly considered. An active citizenry in addition to the oversight conducted by MPs is important in ensuring that our hard-won rights are not infringed upon.

Given the gravity of the regulations, we will request that those are published to give an indication of public sentiment in this regard, as it relates to the fundamental constitutional right to public comment.

The DA encourages the public to continue submitting public comments to give the ANC a very clear message that censorship will not be tolerated.

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