His master’s voice – apartheid censor board mooted, targeting online content

THE Films and Publications Board has mooted a proposal for the classification of online content that could result in the removal of free speech and communications freedoms guaranteed by South Africa’s constitution.

The proposal would also seriously compromise the principle of net neutrality.

The draconian and ill-considered plan forces all distributors of online content to register with the board, resulting in a funding regime that would result in government censorship of online communication. In effect we will be paying to be classified, as social media and the Internet itself becomes subject to government fiat in the form of an Internet Tax, followed by an inappropriate ratings scheme borrowed from the countries current television dispensation.

A fee of R450 is proposed for each and every film or online publication distributed over the Internet.

The main concern of the board appears to be the impact of content on children, but there is no reason why adult supervision and caveat emptor should now be supplanted by government controls. The usual scare stories about child pornographers have also been raised.

Unlike television which is programmed and available via terrestrial and satellite channels, the Internet is not live programming as such.

Users have to actively search out sites, in an activity known as surfing.

Most plans to censor online content around the world have failed, since the Internet itself is not controlled by anyone, and historically routes around such obstacles.

Users would simply deploy encryption technology, making it impossible for the board to monitor online content. This is the reason why an earlier proposal by Minister Gigaba for a national firewall was quietly dropped.

In terms of the new regulations, Medialternatives and other online blogs hosted outside the country, could be subject to a government classification committee, in a step which is reminiscent of previous attempts to regulate and censor the press.

Under the ANC ruling party and also during the period of apartheid, various plans have emerged which are nothing less than motions to stifle press freedom and the right of access to information.

In the event of the policy being enacted as law, Medialternatives will refuse to participate in such a scheme, and will not comply with any government request to rate or classify content.

The apartheid state routinely banned publications and periodicals, gagging journalists critical of the regime.

Medialternatives has been publishing free content since 2005.

You can read the policy proposal here

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