Film and Publication Board on content classification…

The Film and Publications Amendment Act granted the Film and Publication Board (FPB) sweeping powers, which could threaten freedom of expression.

With the law coming into force on March 1, 2022, the FPB became the regulator of all online content in South Africa.

The law allows the council (which is responsible to the Minister of Communications) to censor content. The 1996 Films and Publications Act update sought to balance constitutional freedoms with the righteous need to protect children, in particular, from harm online.

Until the final regulations are published in the Official Gazette, online distributors of games, movies and publications don’t know exactly how the law will affect them. As it stands, it does not apply to traditional broadcasters, as broadcasting is self-regulated and constitutionally protected.

However, all online content creators could fall under the law if a complaint is filed with the board regarding content posted on Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook or another online platform.

And those who make a living from their movies, games, or other user-generated content are technically considered commercial operators. If they are not registered and paying entities, they could face heavy fines if their content rating is not in sync with the state.

Deputy Communications Minister Philemon Mapulane told the media on March 4 that South Africa had moved away from post-apartheid censorship and embraced the content rating system which provides clearly labeled ratings and notice to consumers.

“The only content that is not allowed is those aspects that we as South Africans find offensive or unconstitutional, such as hate speech, incitement to violence, child sexual abuse. .. bestiality, etc.

“It empowers the consumer to make informed choices about what they want to see or read, and to learn how to make those choices as well to protect their children from exposure to content that can cause developmental harm and psychological,” Mapulane mentioned. We have come a long way, he suggested.

Not everyone agrees. And while some aspects of the law are to be celebrated, there are other concerns about its out-of-step with international approaches to rating content on global platforms.

Media Advocate Janet MacKenzie says: “Its application is extremely broad and includes user-generated content and any content posted online by people who are not members of the Press Council. The difficulty lies in the legal requirement that all online distributors must register as a distributor with the FPB.

“Online distributors then have the option of submitting all content to the FPB for classification prior to distribution, or requesting from the FPB the right to self-classify the content or the right to use an institution’s classification system For a person who generates his own content and puts it on platforms, this will not be possible.

This also means that platforms would have to register with the council and submit all their content to it for classification. “That’s impossible, by the very nature of the vast amounts of content on these platforms, if you just consider the extent of user-generated content available online.”

Platforms will need to ensure that their content classification complies with FPB’s classification guidelines. “This is where it gets really difficult for platforms that are global in nature which, in terms of international approaches to online harm regulation, are subject to self-regulatory systems that allow these platforms to implement their own classification systems, complaints process and support procedures.Global content platforms already have extensive content moderation systems in place and conduct their own self-classification according to the rules, guidelines and standards of their own platform,” she explains. “They also employ content moderators around the world to perform this function.”

MacKenzie says that while the positive aspects of the law — to prevent hate speech and child abuse — are laudable, those goals could have been achieved with less interference.

Technically, the law applies to all films – from drone footage to stills, GIFs and live streaming. This means vloggers, bloggers, streamers, webinar hosts, influencers and other content creators are affected.

Anyone who fails to rate a film, game or publication is guilty of an offense and liable to pay a fine of R150,000 or be sentenced to eight months in prison, or both. And if distributed, it could mean a fine of up to R500,000, five years in prison, or both.

It also makes live streaming legally impossible, as all content must first be rated and approved.

William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa says that while major platforms include specifications on their programming, bloggers and other content producers should submit their work for pre-rating, even if it’s not for commercial purposes. “For bloggers, who produce or distribute content, this is a big problem. If you produce video content and fail to submit to classification, there are some pretty stiff penalties. It’s a big stick for beating content producers.

Duplication, fees and administrative hurdles could deter investment in South Africa’s content and creative industries, MacKenzie said, adding the state would have a “wonderful excuse” to block access to sites. social networks, if he wanted to. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly newspaper Daily Maverick 168, which is available nationwide for R25.


Jacob L. Thornton