The National Assembly has officially passed the Films and Publication Amendment Bill. Parliament has confirmed that the Bill will be forwarded to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for consensus. Thereafter, it will be signed off by President Cyril Ramaphosa and become official law.
Previously, the Bill came under scrutiny by members of the public and film industry. Concerns were raised around censorship of online content. The previous Films and Publication Act was passed in 1996, and many argue that it could never have anticipated how the internet is used today. The Act’s main focus was to protect children from harm. With online content so readily available, this opens up an entirely different can of worms. How does this affect online content creators?
Several points raised in the amendment of the Bill:
- User-generated content is included under the definition of “film”, meaning that Facebook or YouTube videos might need to be classified before they are uploaded.
- The difference between commercial and private distribution is unclear.
- Live-streaming is not exempt from any of these requirements, meaning that live-streams can’t be classified.
These public consultations are done to assess whether or not the @FPB_ZA classification guidelines are still reflective of South African norms and values. Different opinions and views are being discussed regarding our ratings and guidelines #GuidelinesReview pic.twitter.com/sc8u2rQT5x
— FPB (@FPB_ZA) March 8, 2018
The Films and Publications Amendment Bill will allow the Film and Publications Board (FPB) to regulate user-generated internet content. It will also allow for non-compliant online distributors, such as YouTube or Netflix, to be blocked at an Internet Service Provider (ISP) level. This includes ISPs such as MWeb, Telkom or AfriHost.
Simply, this means if FPB classifies content produced by an online distributor as non-compliant to the Bill’s regulations, their content can be blocked through certain internet services.
The Bill distinguishes between ‘commercial’ and ‘non-commercial’ distributors. Commercial distributors are required to have their content classified. If not, commercial distributors face criminal prosecution. A non-commercial distributor of films and games may only be classified if someone lodges a specific complaint about their content.
All content platforms such as YouTube and Netflix will also now be asked to register as commercial distributors and pay an annual fee. This fee will be determined by the number of titles present in their library.
Many are concerned that the built-in provisions in ISPs will mean service providers can be overridden by the FPB to enforce the blocking of non-complaint platforms. Essentially, internet users will not be able to access censored content.
The FPB will now have the power to classify and ban films, publications and games. This will include:
- Any newspaper, book, periodical, pamphlet, poster or other printed matter;
- Any writing or typescript which has in any manner been duplicated;
- Any drawing, picture, illustration or painting;
- Any print, photograph, engraving or lithograph;
- Any record, magnetic tape, soundtrack or any other object in or on which sound has been recorded for reproduction;
- Computer software which is not a film;
- The cover or packaging of a film;
- Any figure, carving, statue or model;
- Any message or communication, including a visual presentation, placed on any distributed network including, but not confined to, the internet.