Controversial Internet censorship Bill now law

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 03 Oct 2019
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The Films and Publications Act, which some dubbed the Internet censorship Bill, came to life yesterday when president Cyril Ramaphosa appended his signature to the controversial Bill.

The new Act had come under fierce scrutiny since it was first gazetted as a Bill, with many calling for it to be overhauled for infringing on freedom of speech.

On Wednesday, when the president signed the Bill into law, the country was already knee-deep in questions about the law’s role in inhibiting speech – and whether there are options to it.

Opponents of the law had voiced concerns over the vague and broad terminology used; stipulations that would see the Film and Publication Board overstepping into the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa's regulatory jurisdiction; and that it contains constitutional infringements on citizens' right to privacy and freedom of expression.

However, yesterday the Presidency said the new law provides for the establishment, composition and appointment of members of an enforcement committee that will, among other tasks, regulate online distribution of films and games.

“The law further regulates the classification of publications, films and games, and allows for the accreditation of independent commercial online distributors by the Film and Publication Board,” said Khusela Diko, the president’s spokesperson.

The law extends the compliance obligations of the Films and Publications Act and the compliance and monitoring functions of the Film and Publication Board to online distributors.

In a statement, Diko says: “Through the board, the law will regulate the creation, possession, production and distribution of films, games and certain publications with a view to protecting children from disturbing and harmful content.

“The amended Act also revises the functions of compliance officers regarding entering and inspection of premises and facilities in which the business of the sale, hire or exhibition of films or games is being conducted.”

Another law signed yesterday – the Electronic Deeds Registration System Act – provides for the development of an Electronic Deeds Registration System, also known as e-DRS.

The Presidency said through the law, South Africa will take advantage of the benefits offered by Internet access, e-commerce and global computerisation in the management of security of property title.

The new system will enable the electronic processing, preparation and lodgement of deeds and documents by conveyancers and the Registrar of Deeds.

Diko said: “It will also enable the registration of large volumes of deeds effectively; improved turnaround times for providing registered deeds and documents to clients; countrywide access to deeds registration services; enhanced accuracy of examination and registration; availability of information to the public; and security features including confidentiality, non-repudiation, integrity and availability.”

According to the office of the president, this is set to enhance security of title and the acquisition and disposal of fixed assets.

Similarly, the property market in the country stands to gain from the newly signed Property Practitioners Act of 2019, which repeals the 43-year-old Estate Agency Affairs Act of 1976 (Act 112 of 1976).

“The Bill the president has assented to responds to the dynamic needs of the real estate industry and is aimed at improving the functioning of the property market, which includes regulating the buying, selling and renting of land and buildings,” said Diko.

Among other innovations, the Act establishes a Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority and provides for the appointment of the board of this regulatory authority.

The Act also puts in place better monitoring mechanisms, including requiring inspectors to obtain warrants to enter premises.