Online content censorship - South Africa

January 2, 2015 by South Africa  

Many, if not most of you, will remember the whole debacle a few years ago in the USA around SOPA (Stop online piracy act) and PIPA (Protect IP act). Google, Wikipedia and thousands of smaller websites engaged in a series of protests against these bills.

At first glance these acts seem to be noble, but as soon as you look a bit deeper, a number of concerns pop up e.g. how will this affect online communities with regards to user generated content ? How will this affect free speech ? How will all of this technically be implemented? And won't this ultimately open doors for all kinds of abuse ?

Now an act that is raising the same concerns is being proposed by the FPB (Film and publication board) in South Africa but unlike SOPA and PIPA, it doesn't seem to really bring any real benefit to the table for content creators nor any benefit to the public.

To be blunt, it only seems like another attempt, by yet another government agency to fill its coffers.

For those of us living in Gauteng this sounds awfully a lot like the whole SANRAL E-toll mess, where the government failed miserably on so many levels.

But lets look a little bit deeper at the subject at hand, why do we have a FPB to start out with? What is the role of the FPB?

To quote from the FPB's website:

The Films and Publications Act (No 65 of 1996) as amended establishes the Film and Publication Board. The objectives of this Act are to:

  • regulate the creation, production, possession, and distribution of certain publications and certain films by means of classification, the imposition of age restrictions, and giving of consumer advice; and
  • make exploitative use of children in pornographic publications, films, or on the internet punishable.

The FPB wants to implement something along these lines for the South African web around the 31st of March 2016.

According to Mail & Guardian nobody will be allowed to distribute certain online content in SA without FPB classification and a distribution fee of up to R 750 000 (determined by the board), will need to be paid, along with an extremely ugly logo (that looks like a three year old tripping out on LSD designed it) needs to be displayed.

It is however currently a bit ambiguous who this nobody exactly is and what exact content applies. So all of this might just be nothing more than sensationalism.

But lets assume for a second, without getting into a Lawrence Krauss type of discussion that nobody is in fact nobody.This could be detrimental to local content creation in SA, which could in turn be detrimental to hosting companies locally. Many will move their hosting outside SA before being forced by some South African agency (that doesn't understand how the web works) to fork out a few grand.

Not to mention that all of this is extremely archaic and out of place in context of the web and is yet another humiliating garlic, beetroot and lemon incident and will likely make us the laughing stock of the internet.

It would be interesting to see how the FPB intends to enforce any of this and if they would even be open to discuss the subject or simply ignore the public like SANRAL did?

Additional Reading
Film and publication board
Spectre of an online content censor looms
Online content censorship in South Africa looms
Stop online piracy act
Protests against SOPA and PIPA

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