The Right2Know Campaign (R2K), an advocacy group fighting for transparency in government and freedom of speech, has had a right go at South Africa’s Film and Publication Board (FPB).
R2K has challenged the FPB to publish the records of its public hearings and all the written submissions the FPB received, after Cabinet approved the Film and Publications Amendment Bill last week.
The Amendment Bill in question is a piece of legislation that aims to censor, regulate and control content on the internet. Naturally, it has been met with some fierce resistance.
“There is every reason to believe that Cabinet is attempting to push through the FPB’s envisioned internet censorship regime, outlined in its Draft Online Regulation Policy, in the face of massive public opposition. We believe the record of public comment will confirm that the majority of South Africans want a free internet,” R2K said in a statement.
According to the advocacy group, the Bill that Cabinet has now sent to Parliament would amend the Film and Publications Act, 1996 (Act 65 of 1996), which governs the FPB and the classification of “certain films and publications”, thereby creating an unconstitutional infringement of the right to free speech.
The government on the other hand, has explained that once the Bill has been fully adopted, it will allow the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to refuse the renewal of mobile network licences if the FPB feels the network in question didn’t comply.
It explained that the Bill would “…[strengthen] the duties imposed on mobile networks and Internet service providers to protect the public and children during usage of their services. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa will not issue licences or renewals without confirmation from the Film and Publication Board of full compliance with its legislation.”
Not only does R2K want the FPB to publish the public records, but it is naturally upset with the entire premise of the Bill.
“This is a brazen attempt to give the FPB powers that it currently is not and should not be entrusted with. The FPB and Cabinet would do well to remember that that Draft Policy is unpopular in the extreme and there have been widespread calls for it to be scrapped. Tens of thousands of people have signed petitions by R2K and Avaaz calling on the FPB to do just that.
“We stand by our demand that the FPB and Cabinet heed the public’s response and desist from further attempts to push through its highly unpopular and backwards-looking Draft Policy.”