South African internet censorship: have your say this Thursday

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The Turbine Hall at 65 Ntemi Piliso Street in Newtown will host the Gauteng leg of public consultations conducted by the Film and Publications Board (FPB) on the Draft Online Regulation Policy and it’ll do you good to make your input. Members of the public and other parties are invited to the two hour consultation which starts at 5pm on Thursday 28th May.

Speaking to ahead of this opportunity for direct engagement with the FPB, Internet Service Providers’ Association regulatory advisor Dominic Cull emphasised the implications of the policy and its wideranging implications.

“While it is not censorship perhaps – they talk more about classification – essentially what they are saying is that there is hate speech on social media and they want a way to control that and to protect particularly vulnerable people like children from being exposed to pornography and hate speech of that nature.”

The draft regulations suggest giving wide-ranging powers to the FPB to approve the words, video or audio uploaded to the web and curiously obliges internet operators in South Africa to try and take down videos uploaded to YouTube that it doesn’t like.Under the regulations, the FPB claims to have the right to vet online material and issue takedowns or fines because of “convergence”, but critics say that the language as it stands is far too vague and boils down to censorship.

Cull encourages public participation.

“In South Africa, as in other countries who find themselves in a similar position,” he says, “We are grappling with the fact that this internet is out there and perhaps we do need a level of control, classification or censorship in order to protect vulnerable people.” He warns, however, that the current proposals “could be misused and result in rights for the FPB to take down material. The Draft Online policy could also result in court challenges to determine whether it amounts to an acceptable limitation to the right of freedom of expression.”

The policy was published in the Government Gazette on 4th March. The deadline for submission of  representations or comments is 4pm on 15th July and if you can’t make the physical sessions contributions may be made by email to [email protected]. The Film and Publication Board has also made the call for contributions through social media under the #fairshare.

The Draft Online Regulation Policy is available for download on the FPB website.

As we’ve previously reported, the policy proposal has drawn condemnation from most quarters including locally from the Right2Know campaign as well as international non-profit digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation.