Freedom of speech – you only miss it when it’s gone

Our constitution is under attack yet again, this time from South Africa’s Film and Publication Board (FPB). They effectively want to censor the Internet – only they’re not calling it censorship, of course, but regulation. You can read the Draft Online Regulation Policy here. Its main premise is the protection of children from harmful content, but the steps it wants to take to achieve this end and the scope of its powers are entirely disproportional and arbitrary. Under this policy, basically anything deemed “harmful” (and the definition is not just restricted to pornography) would have to be removed:

7.4 With regard to any other content distributed online, the Board shall have the power to order an administrator of any online platform to take down any content that the Board may deem to be potentially harmful and disturbing to children of certain ages.

It may be easily imagined how this kind of ambiguity  would be open to abuse, exploitation, corruption and, ultimately, censorship. So what can we do? R2K have started the #HandsOffOurInternet campaign to try and drum up awareness and support. You can read more about what they’re doing here. You can sign their petition here. You can also contact the FPB itself; submissions are open until July (see below for more details). Read more about all of this on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website. I think what worries me the most is that, until this morning, I had absolutely no idea that this policy was in the works. We’re little more than a month away from the submission deadline and this has just sailed past a lot of people’s notice, which I imagine is just what they want. Please, please take the time to read the articles, to look over the policy yourself and, if you agree, to sign the petition and to spread the word. This policy is going to have the biggest impact on individuals such as ourselves – the “little people” on the ground, the bloggers, tweeters, people without access to lawyers to battle things out in court. The FPB want to regulate and essentially toll fundamentally free mediums that most people have access to – think about that.

Update: Here is a copy of the email I sent. Submissions and comments are open till July, so please, if you have a moment to spare, contact the FPB at Also check their site for a schedule of public consultations.

To whom it may concern: I am responding to the Film and Publication Board’s invitation to comment on the Draft Online Regulation Policy as published in the government gazette and on the FPB’s website. I must register my alarm at the ambiguous nature of the Draft Online Regulation Policy. In its present form it would effectively give the Film and Publication Board the power to arbitrarily censor any online content, on a variety of online platforms. I believe that this is in direct contravention of the Constitution of South Africa, in which the freedom of expression, the freedom of religion, belief and opinion, and the right to privacy are enshrined. I understand that the FPB has primarily drafted the Online Regulation Policy as a means to protect children from harmful content, but the measures and provisions as outlined in the Draft Online Regulation Policy fall far beyond the scope of the FPB’s authority and directly endangers the constitutional clauses I refer to above. I feel that there is already sufficient legislation and processes in place to protect children from harmful content and that the Film and Publication Board’s proposed Online Regulation Policy is unnecessary and must be scrapped in its totality. Respectfully [Your name here] [A contact number]

UPDATE: Read the Daily Maverick’s take on it. 


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