The Democratic Alliance is digging in its heels to staunchly oppose the Films and Publications Amendment Bill, dubbed the “Censorship Bill”, from seeing the light of day.
Ahead of parliamentary deliberations on the bill, set to get under way today in the portfolio committee on communications, DA MP Phumzile Van Damme said yesterday the “internet censorship bill” was “bad news”.
Van Damme said in its current form the bill, tabled last November, gave government sweeping powers to censor content on the internet, was unworkable, unaffordable, vague and contained several provisions that would fail constitutional scrutiny. Save for two provisions that tightened up the definition of child pornography and criminalisation of “revenge porn”, Van Damme said the rest of the bill had to go.
“This bill is a thinly veiled attempt at internet censorship, disguised as the protection of children against exposure to pornography, as observed in many less than democratic jurisdictions.”
It proved the department of communications did not understand the nature of the internet and the online medium, she said.
“It also proves that, regardless of their ignorance, the government is trying to censor freedom of speech. The legislation currently being pushed through parliament is unacceptable.
“The DA will do everything possible through our engagement in the process of legislation to ensure that the bill does not pass in its current form,” Van Damme said.
One of the DA’s contentions is that the terminology used was too broad and vague. For example, the definition of digital film was “any sequence of visual images recorded in such a manner that by using such recording, such images will be capable of being seen as a moving picture, and includes any picture intended for exhibition through the internet or any other electronic medium or device”.
Van Damme argued this was broad enough to include all digital videos and films, including user-generated video material such as videos uploaded on social media channels.
“This means every single person with a social media account in South Africa would have to register with the Film and Publication Board as a distributor, and pay the requisite fee for pre-classification. This is quite clearly unworkable.”
The bill also provided for a penalty committee appointed by the minister in consultation with Cabinet, not parliament.
The committee could impose fines of up to R150 000 and refer cases for prosecution.
“A body with such powers should be appointed in consultation with parliament … to prevent a situation where the committee becomes a political hit squad.”