Digital Regulators Forum SA to unify digital economy efforts

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 17 Aug 2023
The forum will bring together bodies that are tasked with governing elements of the online and digital space.
The forum will bring together bodies that are tasked with governing elements of the online and digital space.

The Film and Publication Board (FPB), in collaboration with inter-governmental stakeholders, is establishing the Digital Regulators Forum of South Africa, to foster better collaboration among regulators of the country’s digital economy.

This was the word from Dr Mashilo Boloka, CEO of the FPB, delivering a presentation at the recent roundtable organised by the content-classification body, to unpack the regulatory challenges and opportunities presented by the digital world.

According to Boloka, the rapidly-evolving technological innovations in the ICT space continue to defy traditional definitions and blur regulatory boundaries.

As such, he noted, closer co-ordination is inevitably required across the regulatory landscape, to foster collaboration between regulators in an effort to enhance the overall effectiveness of regulatory interventions.

Without providing further details, he said the forum seeks to bring together bodies that are tasked with governing some elements of the online and digital space.

The members include .ZA Domain Name Authority, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, National Consumer Commission and Financial Sector Conduct Authority.

“The Digital Regulators Forum that we are establishing is not a decision-making body. It aims to understand and respect each other's regulating powers and work together, in line with global approaches, such as the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum in the UK and Australia’s Digital Platform Regulators Forum – organisations that we already work with and are learning from,” he explained.

Boloka added that developments in the ICT space have necessitated a relook at regulation, as traditional boundaries between various sectors and services have shifted, and in some cases overlapped given that these are increasingly being offered via digital platforms.

This has led to developments globally, where efforts are under way to foster collaborations by establishing joint regulatory forums.

South Africa, he continued, could gain much value in following the same trend, with the forum established in line with the South African context – as the country grapples with escalation in potentially harmful online content, including X-rated content, fake news and disinformation.

“Today, there is a need for collaboration between stakeholders because the fourth industrial revolution has brought together industries which previously were not even related to each other, and everyone has a role to play in how we deal with technologies.

Dr Mashilo Boloka, CEO of the Film and Publication Board.
Dr Mashilo Boloka, CEO of the Film and Publication Board.

“The issues facing the technological environment are massive and there’s no stakeholder that can tackle all of them alone. Whether you are a stakeholder, a statutory regulator, a policy-maker, or a core regulator – you cannot tackle these issues alone because they are massive and rapidly-evolving,” he continued.

According to the FPB, the rules of engagement and additional details regarding the role of the Digital Regulators Forum of SA will be communicated upon the finalising of the new body.

Dishing out sanctions

The FPB is presently amending regulatory instruments to accommodate the institution’s expanded mandate. This includes the obligation to execute the amended regulations of the FPB Act.

The Act, which came into effect last September, stipulates that commercial online content distributors have to submit content available on their platforms for classification by the FPB, or enter into individual exemption agreements with the FPB.

In line with advancements in digital technologies, the Act also seeks to ensure citizens of SA are protected from content in films, games and online platforms that could cause them moral, emotional or psychological harm.

Boloka stated that because the environment regulated by the FPB is borderless, the organisation is working closely with international regulators, such as the Global Online Regulators Network and Korea’s regulator of the digital sector, among others, to ensure its role is executed efficiently.

The FPB’s enforcement committee will soon issue sanction notifications to internet service providers that have transgressed certain statutes of the Act, he stated.

“To those who have been complying, I'm happy to announce that things are going to change and you will see next month we will start finalising our reports, and those who have not been complying will receive sanctions meted out to them.”