Wow, if this reading of the bill to amend the Films and Publications Act of
1996 is correct then it is very serious indeed and could have dire
implications for the South African Wikipedia community.
On 20 August 2015 at 09:54, ubuntupunk(a)gmail.com <ubuntupunk(a)gmail.com>
Stop SA Government Internet Tax & Censorship Plan
[image: stop net tax]
PRE-PUBLICATION NET CENSORSHIP ENVISAGED BY THE FPB WILL CREATE ENORMOUS
BURDEN OF REDTAPE, THE TERABYTES OF INFORMATION ON THE NET WILL NEVER BE
CLASSIFIED UNDER THE PROPOSED SYSTEM WHICH IS UNWORKABLE, SINCE IT REQUIRES
ENORMOUS LABOUR-HOUR CAPACITY BY THE DEPARTMENT WHO VIEW CONTENT PRODUCERS
AS POTENTIAL FEE DONORS, THIS REPRESENTS A TAX ON THE INTERNET!
UNDER THE PLAN, EACH AND VERY PIECE OF MEDIA UPLOADED ONTO THE NET WOULD
HAVE TO BE FIRST SUBMITTED TO THE DEPARTMENT OF FILMS AND PUBLICATIONS UPON
PAYMENT OF A FEE, IN ORDER FOR THE DEPARTMENT TO CLASSIFY THE MATERIAL,
THIS REPRESENTS A SERIOUS BLOW TO INTERNET FREE-FLOW OF INFORMATION.
INTERNET CONTENT PRODUCERS WHO FAIL TO DO THIS, WILL BE TURNED INTO
SOCIAL MEDIA FEEDS AND BLOGS WILL BE SUBJECT TO THE ACT, WHICH RECKLESSLY
ENVISAGES AN ETOLL.
SOUTH AFRICA’S SECUROCRAT CABINET HAS ALREADY APPROVED THE FPB BILL WHICH
IS BEFORE THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.
WE CAN STOP THIS NET TAX WITH YOUR HELP!
*A response from an Arts and Culture perspective*
The Film and Publications Board is a public entity that falls under the
Department of Communications and was created to regulate the
creation, production and distribution of films, games and ‘certain
publications’ through classifications. It has put an argument forward that
South Africa has seen an increase in the use of portable devices for gaming
and social networking which has been economically beneficial, but also
ensures a proliferation of illegal content in and the abuse of social media
platforms. According to the FPB, these instances amount to a threat to the
nations’ morality and stand to undermine the government’s agenda on social
cohesion. In response, they have suggested new regulations that allow the
FPB considerable power to exercise prior restraint in terms of almost all
forms of content that gets produced and published online.
To quote the Right to Know Campaign, “The FPB wants broadly defined powers
to police everything published on the Internet – including blogs, personal
Web sites and Facebook pages, which amounts to censorship and is a
violation of freedom of expression.“ This would be achieved through a) the
requirement that anyone who wants to publish or distribute content to first
apply for a digital publisher’s online distribution agreement with the FPB,
which will require a subscription fee. After that step, the publisher then
has to submit the content to the FPB for classification before publishing (
As the African Arts Institute. we would like to put forward the following
four points in the strongest terms possible:
1) The proposed regulations are *unconstitutional* in as far as they
contradict the right to freedom of speech by implementing the globally
discredited notion of ‘*prior restraint’* (this is at odds with Section 16
(1b) in the Bill of Rights. Pre-publication censorship is a concept which
has already been thrown out by our Constitutional Court in regards to the
2) Second, any system of prior restraint is costly, time-consuming and
wholly *implausible*. The terabytes of information on the Internet could
never be vetted in real time by any human censor board. The backlog itself
would lead to absurdity and the rest of the world would reject us as an
online destination in terms of client-services.
3) Third, proposed regulations allow the state to assume to role of a
moral guardian and parent, this presents a contradiction to the freedom
default in our Bill of Rights. The* state is an unfit parent* for the
censorship and moral policing of the content and expression available in
contemporary forms of communication in South Africa. The FPB, in its
regulations, appears to raise a number of important points about the nature
and limits of free speech and what the internet and instant communication
has done to such debates.
It mentions for example that “in 2014 cases related to freedom of speech
increased from 3% to 22% of the more than the 10 000 cases dealt with by
the Human Rights Commission. Furthermore, social media platforms such as
Facebook and Twitter contributed to this increase and appear to have
shifted the discourse of free speech. These cases are often complex,
containing elements of racism, poverty, ignorance and misguided hatred.”
Sadly however, the proposals do not suggest democratic ways to move these
debates forward and establish mechanisms for the empowerment of family
structures. Parents are better equipped than the state to make decisions
concerning children and the Internet, and the FPB should rather provide
guides for protection of children . Ultimately the regulations cannot
practically prevent the distribution of content that may be harmful to
children. Laws against child pornography already exist and do not
necessitate a system of prior restraint and censorship.
4) Many commentators have compared the bill to apartheid-era
censorship regulations that contradict the democratic culture, openness and
freedom of post-apartheid South Africa. The cases outlined by the board in
no way present a security threat that calls for such drastic measures.
Freedom of expression and media freedom are cornerstones of democracy and
efforts to restrict these present a threat to the entire social
system. Artists and creative practitioners, have a social role to reflect
and comment on society, to agitate, provide relief, joy, curiosity and
amusement and to critique the status quo. Their role is critical in the
societies ability to understand itself, its past and develop a shared
These regulations hold a particular threat for the work of artists and
creative practitioners (from dancers to journalists), whose work is often
to question what is moral, to provoke critical thought and to expose
unpleasant realities. Such content cannot be subject to prior restraint and
pre-publication censorship without undermining the very core of creative
work. If adopted the regulations would have a chilling effect, both on the
production of content and the freedom upon which our economy is based. This
is definitely not the open society that we voted for in 1994 and certainly
not within the spirit of the constitution and the culture of the freedom
struggle which created it. The bill must be rejected.
The African Arts Institute also supports the Right to Know Campaigns in
some of the main concerns that these regulations raise which are around:
a) The time consuming nature of the proposed regulations: pre-classifying
content undermines immediacy of online content.
b)The democratic nature of the internet, which allows open publication
access to anyone who can get online, and thus ensures an enormous diversity
of content, would be undermined by the bureaucratic conditions of
subscription fees and distribution agreements.
c) The suggestion that the FPB would be able to conduct its classification
work in cases deemed necessary to distributors’ premises to classify
digital content is a draconian suggestion that places enormous power in the
hands of the state to invade the physical privacy of its citizens with
little evidence of the threat that would call for such action.
*David Robert Lewis*
*PO BOX 4398*
*Mobile 082 425 1454*
*Home 021 448 0021*
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Douglas Ian Scott
South African mobile number: +27 (0)79 515 8727