South African Government Moves To Regulate Online Comments


What you post online might put you into trouble if the South African government succeeds in enacting its new internet censorship laws especially if it extends to include online content.

The minister for Communications, Faith Muthambi said she is committed to seeing necessary ways for the new laws to extend the reach of the Film and Publication Board (FPB) to include online content.

The generally criticized Film and Publications Board’s Draft Online Regulation Policy which has been put on hold for some months now, might be passed but this time online distributors would also be checked.

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Speaking on this, attorney Muthambi said in a Daily Maverick column, that the internet has posed a huge challenge to the nation’s security and therefore should be regulated the same way radio, television and print media are compelled to abide by certain rules.

Pointing out the role online platforms and news papers play in the recent spread of racism, particularly at the beginning of the year, Muthambi said  if not properly monitored, it could be a “destructive power in the wrong hands”

As the custodian department for communication platforms in the country, our conviction has become stronger that we have done the correct thing by tabling an amendment to the Films & Publications Act of 1996 which, among other things, will compel all online content distributors, to ensure that their content is not offensive or in violation of the country’s laws” she said.

More to this, Muthambi said passing the bill would curtail online contents that would ensure that users don’t compromise national security, facilitate illegal activities or cause indignity to others through the distribution of hate speech or offensive materials, while balancing freedom of expression.

According to her, communication ministers have organized several meetings where achievable steps on how online contents will be regulated in such a way that it would not affect the opportunities it provides were discussed.

“As SADC colleagues, we are committed to promoting a multi-stakeholder approach between regulators, Internet Service Providers, content generators, academia, operators and consumers when it comes to online content classification and the importance of digital media literacy programmes.

We are all concerned that we need to produce effective guidelines on digital content classification and very pro-active effective and efficient compliance monitoring tools”, Manana said.

Meanwhile, the Film and Publications Amendment Bill and the FPB’s related draft online regulation policy have been widely criticized by some South Africans who see the law as an infringement of the citizen’s constitutional  rights to freedom of expression. To some also, the policy is an attempt to censor the Internet in South Africa.

A nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world called The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), has reacted against the passage of the law. To them, the law will negatively affect business individuals who make a living through their online content. The EFF Referred to the law as archaic and the worst law ever.

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