The South African National Assembly has officially passed the Films and Publications Amendment Bill.It is currently awaiting assent from President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The primary aim of the bill is to bring in a number of changes, including stricter rules to protect minors from ‘disturbing’ online content. It also includes plans to regulate the online distribution of content such as games and films.
Another notable point in the bill regards revenge porn. It states that any person who knowingly shares private sexual photographs or films without consent and with the intention of causing the individual harm is guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction.
If it’s possible to identify the individual in the photographs or films the punishment includes a possible fine of R300,000 ($21,000) and/or up to four years imprisonment. If the individual cannot be identified, it’s a fine of up to R150,000 ($10,500) and/or imprisonment not exceeding two years.
The bill will also make spreading hate speech a criminal offence, also punishable by a fine of up to R150,000 and up to two years in prison. This applies to any individual who knowingly distributes, in any medium, content which amounts to war propaganda, incites imminent violence, or advocates hate speech.
South African internet users are slightly more concerned about the third major element of the bill, which sets out certain requirements for ISPs. If an ISP becomes aware that its services are being used to host or distribute illegal pornography, war propaganda, incitement of violence or advocating hatred based on an ‘identifiable group characteristic’ it is required to immediately remove the content, or be subject to a fine.
People are worried that this will develop into a way of indiscriminately censoring online content, hence the bill being nicknamed the ‘internet censorship bill’.
Dominic Cull, an employee at specialized legal advice firm Ellipsis, states that although there is definite value in what the bill is trying to achieve, the problem lies with how badly it’s written. He called the document “embarrassing” and believes that lawmakers don’t fully understand the environment in which they’re legislating.
He added that the language used in the introduction bill leaves definite potential for abuse in terms of free speech infringement. One of his main objections is that “if I upload something which someone else finds objectionable…they will be able to complain to the FPB [Film and Publication Board]”.
While there are indeed a number of positive amendments that need to be introduced as soon as possible, specifically surrounding illegal pornography and making ‘revenge porn’ a punishable offense, there are still many who believe the bill is simply going to be used as a tool to introduce harsher internet censorship measures.