'Internet Censorship Bill' heading to Parliament

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The Bill demands ISPs block all Web sites hosting refused classification content.
The Bill demands ISPs block all Web sites hosting refused classification content.

The Films and Publications Amendment Bill, labelled by some as the "Internet Censorship Bill", is heading to Parliament to be approved.

The Portfolio Committee on Communications met this week and "deliberated clause-by-clause on the Bill, and adopted the report to recommend the Bill to the National Assembly for debate and final adoption".

"The Bill seeks to protect children from exposure to illegal content distributed online and exposure to harmful content (pornography, sex, violence, etc) online, as premature exposure could have adverse psychological and behavioural impact on children," deputy minister of communications Tandi Mahambehlala said.

The Bill is supposed to address the shortcomings of the Films and Publications Act of 1996, but has come under fierce scrutiny since it was first gazetted, with many calling for it to be overhauled for infringing on freedom of speech.

Opponents of the Bill in the past voiced concerns over the vague and broad terminology used; stipulations that would see the Film and Publication Board (FPB) overstepping into the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa's regulatory jurisdiction; and that it contained constitutional infringements on citizens' right to privacy and freedom of expression. Last year, the FPB made some changes to the Bill after it received many comments from the public and industry players.

The Bill demands Internet service providers (ISPs) block all Web sites hosting refused classification content.

"The said content includes child abuse and child sexual abuse material, depiction of bestiality, material containing excessive violence or sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug abuse, and/or material that advocates the committing of terrorist acts," the department said in a statement.

It also reaffirms the FPB's role to protect any persons who would have consented during the production of content, especially sex, but does not agree that such content be distributed for public consumption.

"Victims of fake news or revenge porn will be protected by the Bill and are eligible to approach the FPB for recourse."

FPB's acting COO Abongile Mashele said the Bill has catered for the establishment of the Enforcement Committee (EC) to provide for speedy resolutions in certain cases that fall under the EC, including issuing fines. Mashele added there will be cases where the FPB will work directly with justice courts for prosecution.

"We welcome the establishment of the EC as the FPB currently only has monitoring powers over content distributors, but cannot ensure enforcement of the Films and Publications Act," Mashele added.

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