The FPB debacle highlights how convoluted, confusing and complex legislation is

This morning the Film and Publications Board (FPB) hosted a livestream in which it announced that together with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies and President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Film and Publications Amendment Act of 2019 is now in effect (PDF).

“The Amendment Act comes into operation at a time when governments all over the world are grappling with the escalation in potentially harmful content on digital platforms, as we witness the entrenchment of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in society,” said deputy minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Philly Mapulane.

“Changes to the FPA Act seeks to modernise laws that protect the South African public from exposure to prohibited content distributed online, as well as exposure of children to harmful digital content that could have adverse psychological and behavioural impacts. Laws are enacted to give effect to the rights enshrined in the Constitution. The FPA Act seeks to balance the right to freedom of expression with the responsibility to protect our citizens from harm and to maintain social cohesion,” the deputy minister added.

The amended act gives the FPB the teeth it needs to regulate content in South Africa. As the Film and Publications Act originally came into being in 1996, amendments were needed.

Our problem with this entire process is how complex and confusing it has been.

This is a problem that exists in every sphere of government and state institutions. Nothing is simple or in plain language and as a result, the situation with the FPB amendments has lead to panic.

The panic is a result of the way we read these proposed pieces of legislation.

We want to focus on the use of “commercial online distribution” in the amendments. At Hypertext we interpret a this as as an entity that shares content to a wider audience online. But the FPB’s definition is far broader and has caused confusion.


The internet has made commercialising content easy for anybody. You don’t need the backing of a television network anymore, you can quite literal hit record and share your thoughts with the world. Does this mean the FPB will now be policing YouTubers? Not entirely.

When last we spoke with the FPB we were told, “The general public creating content for non-commercial distribution will only be affected if the content they create falls foul of the laws prohibiting the distribution of child pornography, hate speech, incitement to violence, violence or sexual violence. This includes such cyber social ills as revenge pornography.”

We need to clarify here that this was before the Amendment Act was signed into law and at the time the FPB couldn’t comment on certain aspects of the legislation before it was signed into law.

We will of course be following up with the FPB as regards its stance on private citizens, but herein lies the problem.

Citizens shouldn’t need to consult with lawyers and the FPB directly in order to know if posting a video of your holiday will get you into trouble with the law. While we support active citizenry, that shouldn’t have to involve obtaining a crash course in legal jargon and how to read legislation.

There is no clearer example of this than the amendment act itself. The amendment act must be read in conjunction with the original act from 1996 and that means paging back and forth between two documents. Having gone through this process we can attest to it being a time consuming and cognitively exhausting process.

Does the average person in the street have time to read through 45 pages of amendments and 32 pages of the original act and interpret it the exact same way the FPB would? We doubt that very much and that’s the problem here.

Laws and legislation are written for people but they are written by highly educated individuals who have a deep understanding of the law. Therein lies the disconnect because not everybody understands or knows that their definition of something is different to the legal definition of that same thing.

It’s all just incredibly frustrating to sit here not knowing whether a piece of legislation will upend careers and we really need to change how the legislative process functions.

While we wait for that and for pigs to fly, we’re going to firing off questions to attorneys and the FPB for clarity. Be sure to contact us on Facebook or Twitter if you have a pressing question you want to ask.

We asked attorneys about the FPB Amendment Bill, this is what they said

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]


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