The Films and Publications Amendment Bill raises serious freedom-of-speech concerns and should be rewritten, the Internet Service Providers’ Association said on Thursday.
Describing the bill as a “classic example of good intentions gone bad”, the association, which represents many of South Africa’s ISPs, said that although the draft legislation “sets out a framework for classification of online content which could be useful, this is lost in vague definitions and ill-considered attempts to expand the role of the Film and Publication Board into an Internet policeman”.
“Problematic definitions effectively turn all South African Internet users into online content distributors, directly regulated by the Film and Publication Board,” said the association’s regulatory advisor, Dominic Cull, in a statement.
Three definitions of the term “distributor” are proposed in the bill. One of these relates to a “non-commercial online distributor”, defined as “any person who distributes content using the Internet, or enables content to be distributed by a user of online services, for personal or private purposes”, Cull said. “This goes well beyond the original mandate of South Africa’s film and publications legislation, which is to regulate the activities of people in the business of distributing films, games and publications.”
In effect, the bill “seeks to regulate all South Africans who distribute electronic content, and this may include private communication between individuals”.
“WhatsApp messages, Facebook and Twitter posts and comments on online news articles all spring to mind as the kind of content which the bill seeks to regulate,” he said.
This broad scope means that the provisions of the bill “interact dangerously with fundamental constitutional rights such as freedom of expression”.
“The bill empowers the Film and Publication Board to make decisions about what is and what is not protected speech and to issue takedown notices where it is of the view that speech is not protected. Ispa believes that a quasi-government body appointed by a minister should not be making extremely complex legal judgment calls about something as fundamental to our hard-won democracy as freedom of expression.”
Before the bill is signed into law, there should be careful consideration of the draft bill’s content, provisions and how these interact with South Africans’ constitutional rights, Cull said. “If all else fails to remedy the Films and Publications Amendment Bill, the act should be repealed and rewritten from scratch.” — © 2018 NewsCentral Media