Human beings are innately wired for progress. It is in our evolutionary DNA. History has shown that, often, much is sacrificed in the name of advancement.
At the start of the Second Industrial Revolution, few would have predicted that the burning of fossil fuels would have such deleterious effects on our environment. Through lobbying the global world, via policy summits, 13,000 scientists explicitly called for bold and drastic transformations inclusive of economic and population policies. These policies led to legislative change, resulting in enormous positive effects that just may save the world we live in.
Enter the digital revolution with its interesting dynamic, pitting the hard-won right to freedom of speech against the imperative for social cohesion and the protection of personal dignity the age-old debate in democratic nations around balancing rights and responsibilities.
The penetration of new technologies and the reliance on digital forms of information and entertainment in South Africa is undeniable. In the first quarter of 2020, daily newspaper circulation declined by 14% over the previous year, with weekend newspapers declining by 17%, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation of South Africa. At the same time, according to statistics from the DataReportal, mobile connections in South Africa increased by 3.1 million between January 2019 and January 2020, to 103.5 million. Internet penetration stood at 62% (an increase of 3.1% year-on-year) and social media penetration at 37% (an increase of 19% year-on-year).
This trend is not new, as media convergence sees consumers opting to access their news, information and entertainment online. At the same time, a significant power shift has occurred. The gatekeeper role of curated information, once held by traditional media, is starting to dissolve with ordinary citizens being able to share their opinions far and wide using social media.
Enter a whole new debate: fact versus fake news. A certain high-powered state leader on Twitter being a prominent case in point.
In South Africa, a strong Constitution has won global acclaim for its ability to balance rights and responsibilities. Our legislation and regulations take their tenor from this solid basis. The Films and Publications Amendment Act of 2019 (FPAA) is no different, recognising that no right can be absolute insofar as it holds the potential to infringe on a contrasting right.
In simple terms, as an example, the freedom of one citizen to express their opinions online has, in the past, come into direct conflict with the rights of fellow citizens when these opinions constitute hate speech. The right of a child to not be exposed prematurely to content of an adult nature comes up against uncontrolled posting of sexually explicit images on mobile applications.
The FPAA activates a system of consumer advisories, employed to provide the public with advance knowledge of the types of content they are likely to encounter in a film or game.
This balancing act between rights and responsibilities is by no means a simple equation, due in part to the diverse and nuanced nature of human existence. In recent weeks, a draft set of regulations developed to align with the Films and Publications Amendment Act of 2019 has been published for public and industry inputs, after the Amendment Act was assented to by the president in September 2019. The Amendment Act and the regulations, once finalised, will come into operation simultaneously.
So, in the wake of this new and improved legislation designed to protect us and our children, articles and social media posts proliferate that misrepresent its intention and its consumer protection elements, which go to the heart of the Film and Publications Amendment Act.
Fact or myth: The Films and Publications Amendment Act (FPAA) and draft regulations
The intent of the Act has always been to ensure that citizens of South Africa are protected from content in films, games and certain publications that could cause them moral, emotional or psychological harm. Precepts of the act, and the regulations that implement them, create that fine balancing act between the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The Amendment Act brings the law in line with advancements in digital technologies to protect against harmful content online.
Censorship versus classification
Often accused of being a law that seeks to censor, this misunderstanding stems from opponents not taking into consideration the mechanism by which content is mediated. It completely overlooks the fact that in a democratic South Africa we do not ban content, unless the content is unlawful and damages social cohesion in the country (i.e. hate speech, incitement of imminent violence, propaganda for war, child pornography, etc). This unlawful content is set out in the Constitution, to which the FPAA is aligned.
Instead, the FPAA activates a system of consumer advisories, employed to provide the public with advance knowledge of the types of content they are likely to encounter in a film or game. The content is not banned or censored unless it contains illegal content it is, rather, allocated a consumer advisory prior to distribution. This is a very important and fundamental distinction.
The process of the classification of content is informed by Classification Guidelines which are used to assign ratings and classifiable elements to every film and game prior to their distribution in the country. Using this consumer advisory as a guide, the public chooses what content they or their children expose themselves to. These Classification Guidelines are subjected to a substantive review and to public scrutiny every five years to ensure alignment to new laws and new child development theories, so that they correspond with social values and the best interest of citizens.
An age rating, for example, alerts a parent that the content might cause developmental, emotional or psychological harm to their children under that age. An SV element on the other hand warns survivors of sexual violence that the content may contain portrayals of sexual violence and might thus trigger their previous trauma. A P element assigned would warn about prejudicial themes against a certain religious, racial or interest group. This is a somewhat oversimplification, as the Classification Guidelines take into consideration the artistic or pedagogical intent of the creator and the impact of the format in which the content is distributed (e cinema or DVD).
Films and games, which are distributed by a person who conducts the business of such, are classified before legal distribution can take place. The FPAA allows the public to lay a complaint against, or object to, any publication (except for newspapers, magazines and broadcast content which is exempt regardless) such as a book or piece of art. This content is then assigned a classification retrospectively.
The FPAA affirms that commercial digital content, distributed on online platforms such as Over-The-Top (OTT) and Video on Demand (VOD) falls into the ambit of its pre-classification for legal distribution.
Commercial digital content vs social media
Another common misperception is that the FPAA seeks to control social media content. While the content shared on social media does potentially contain content that can cause harm, the FPAA does not in fact relate to social media generally. It does, however, make inroads into protecting the public from specific types of social media content that directly harms the dignity of a citizen. This content is referred to in the FPAA as revenge pornography and aims to provide recourse for survivors of cyber bullying perpetrated online, when intimate images are shared without the consent of the person depicted in the content.
The chicken-and-egg debate about South Africas high rate of violence vis--vis the type of content we consume illustrates the question of impact of content consumption on the population.
Prior to the FPAA being signed by the president, a distributor of physical content (i.e. cinema-style exhibitions, DVD or CD) needed to ensure that the content is assigned an age rating and element classification before it is distributed.
Mechanisms are now being put in place through the FPAA draft regulations to provide greater clarity and direction on how content that is distributed online for commercial gain is classified. This gives the public the option to consume content or not, based on the consumer advisory that is assigned to the online content.
This amendment to the law now places it beyond doubt that viewers of online commercial films and games will be protected through consumer advisories in the same way that they have been protected from content distributed through traditional methods previously. The onus is placed on the distributor of such online content to ensure that a classification rating is assigned and displayed when content is viewed.
Importantly, this excludes content that is not shared for commercial gain online and on social media platforms.
The nature of online distribution channels is vastly different from traditional distribution channels: the FPB is consulting stakeholders from the creative and distribution industry to simplify the process of classifying commercial online content. This includes the possibility for these online service providers to self-classify, based on the South African classification system, or apply for the accreditation of a recognised and aligned international classification system that industry has been trained to use.
After three weeks of interaction with industry in this regard, the majority of our creative sector has welcomed the robust and sincere dialogue with the FPB on the draft regulations to implement the FPAA in the interest of protecting the public while easing the administrative burden on distributors.
Better safe than sorry
These are some of the misunderstandings of the FPAA clarified.
Reflecting on other advancements in humanitys relentless quest for progress that have resulted in both positive and disastrous impacts on society, proactively trying to counter such negative effects makes good sense.
The chicken-and-egg debate about South Africas high rate of violence vis--vis the type of content we consume illustrates the question of impact of content consumption on the population.
Does our content reflect our social values and mores, or does immersing our children in such content ramp up the normalisation of violent actions? Equally, we see the devastation to personal dignity caused as a result of various forms of cyberbullying, such as revenge pornography, and in its most extreme form suicide.
Should we as a nation rather be safe than sorry? DM
Lynette Kamineth is the Communications and Public Education Manager at the Film and Publication Board, the content regulator and agency of the Department of Communications. She uses her expertise to highlight the work being done by the organisation to protect the children of South Africa from exposure to potentially harmful content.
Laurie Less is the Shared Services executive at the Film and Publication Board. She was previously the Executive Manager at Wits University Clear-AA, a specialist M&E centre and in various government agencies. In the development sector she worked as a senior programme manager for both Swedish SIDA and the Open Society Foundation of South Africa.
Pandelis Gregoriou is Manager of Legal and Regulatory Affairs at the Film and Publication Board. An attorney of the High Court of South Africa, he obtained a BA and LLB degrees from Wits University. He has worked at the South African Human Rights Commission as its Head of Legal Services, leading the execution of the protection mandate of the institution.
Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or if you are already an Insider.
Go here to see the original:
- Barcelona members strike back vs. Bartomeu: What does 'motion of censorship' mean, and what's next? - ESPN - September 18th, 2020
- What the *, Nintendo? This in-game censorship is * terrible. - EFF - September 18th, 2020
- Social media censorship in Egypt targets women on TikTok - The World - September 18th, 2020
- Trumps Partial TikTok And WeChat Ban Tip-Toes Into Chinese-Style Censorship - Forbes - September 18th, 2020
- Judd Apatow Criticizes Hollywood's Censorship For International Market: China Has Bought Our Silence With Their Money - Deadline - September 18th, 2020
- Bangladesh in the Shadow of Censorship The Diplomat - The Diplomat - September 18th, 2020
- Why is the government pushing unprecedented online censorship? - Telegraph.co.uk - September 18th, 2020
- Not Content to Censor Conservatives, Zuckerberg Now Seeks to Meddle in Election - National Legal and Policy Center - September 18th, 2020
- New Alliance to Track and Fight Censoring of Conservatives - CBN News - September 18th, 2020
- Reading the Evolution of Censorship and Sedition in India - The Wire - September 18th, 2020
- China's Influence on the Global Human Rights System - Human Rights Watch - September 18th, 2020
- China Isn't Hiding the Border Tensions With India From Its Public Anymore - The Diplomat - September 18th, 2020
- Censorship - Wikipedia - September 6th, 2020
- What Is Censorship? | American Civil Liberties Union - September 6th, 2020
- Call Trumps Attacks On The 1619 Project What They Are Censorship of American History - Forbes - September 6th, 2020
- Facebook is bringing an updated content censorship term for its users from October 1st - Digital Information World - September 6th, 2020
- Will Joe Rogan Have The Guts To Call Out Spotify For 'Censorship'? - CCN.com - September 6th, 2020
- Joe Rogans Spotify move condemned by fans over right-wing censorship claims - The Independent - September 6th, 2020
- Shadow banning and its role in modern day censorship - Cherwell Online - September 6th, 2020
- Apple reacts to censorship censure - Mobile World Live - September 6th, 2020
- TunnelBear Circumvents Iran VPN Block, Launches 10GB Monthly Offer in the Country - Business Wire - September 6th, 2020
- Facebook is changing its Terms of Service, and users are not happy - Windows Central - September 6th, 2020
- End the blacklist of the World Socialist Web Site on Reddit! - WSWS - September 6th, 2020
- Kahle: Upholding the public trust - The Register-Guard - September 6th, 2020
- Science protections must be enforceable | TheHill - The Hill - September 6th, 2020
- Reddit isnt happy about President Trumps anti-censorship executive order - Reclaim The Net - September 6th, 2020
- Forget TikTok. Chinas Powerhouse App Is WeChat. - The New York Times - September 6th, 2020
- The shaky upcoming national election environment can be fixed - JNS.org - September 6th, 2020
- Censorship on social media? It's not what you think - CBS News - September 4th, 2020
- Kyle Rittenhouse lawyer Lin Wood threatens to sue Twitter over censorship - Reclaim The Net - September 4th, 2020
- Finding human territory in a fractured world - The Tech - September 4th, 2020
- We dont believe in censorship: Controversial Aboriginal commentator to lead WA festival amid fear of backlash from Noongar people - WAtoday - September 4th, 2020
- How WeChat Censored the Coronavirus Pandemic - WIRED - August 28th, 2020
- Voter Advocacy Orgs Sue Trump Administration for Executive Order Threatening Social Media Censorship - EFF - August 28th, 2020
- Kuwait eases censorship laws after banning 5000 titles in last 7 years - The Indian Express - August 28th, 2020
- Buffy's Amber Benson on censorship, the musical, and Tara's death - digitalspy.com - August 28th, 2020
- Kuwait relaxes book censorship laws after banning thousands of titles - The Guardian - August 28th, 2020
- Chinas wrath on Hong Kong is causing artists to self-censor - Reclaim The Net - August 28th, 2020
- Here are 5 excuses liberals have put forward in defence of modern day book burning, and why it makes them look like total morons - OpIndia - August 28th, 2020
- Jessie and Austins aunt vs TikTok the debate around censorship of Bodies in the Suitcase video - HITC - August 28th, 2020
- Artists Ai Weiwei and Fang Fang's depictions of the Wuhan lockdown - DW (English) - August 28th, 2020
- A Radioactive Plague: The secrecy and censorship surrounding civilian deaths from World War II - Milwaukee Independent - August 10th, 2020
- Censorship on the internet in 2020: The potential effects of TikTok - Film Daily - August 10th, 2020
- Wicker: Time to address online censorship - The Vicksburg Post - Vicksburg Post - August 10th, 2020
- Open Technology Fund Authorization Act - BORGEN - Borgen Project - August 10th, 2020
- The Logic of a US WeChat Ban - The Diplomat - August 10th, 2020
- Ben Domenech Clashes With Joe Trippi Over Censorship Of Trump's Social Media - The Federalist - August 10th, 2020
- German Analysis Institute Regrets Censorship of a Professional Science Assertion - The Shepherd of the Hills Gazette - August 10th, 2020
- China Is Upgrading Its Great Firewall And Can Now Censor Even More Content - News18 - August 10th, 2020
- Twitter censors all links to BitChute - Reclaim The Net - August 10th, 2020
- Fear of Authoritarian Regimes Is Pushing the Film Industry to Self-Censor - Foreign Affairs Magazine - August 10th, 2020
- Facebook is wrong to censor Donald Trump - The Spectator USA - August 10th, 2020
- Education, not censorship, must be used to tackle online antisemitism - The Jerusalem Post - August 10th, 2020
- Why Did Facebook Censor This Video Of President Trump? - The Hayride - August 10th, 2020
- Lawyer concerned that 'internet censorship bill' may be used as a political tool - CapeTalk - August 10th, 2020
- Brother Nut, the Artist, Taking Vow of Silence to Protest Chinas Censorship - VOA Asia - August 8th, 2020
- Researchers slowly discover censorship doesnt work - Reclaim The Net - August 8th, 2020
- Setlist: Wiley, Twitter and the online censorship debate - Complete Music Update - August 8th, 2020
- The line between legislating in opposition to disinformation and censorship could be very skinny - Pledge Times - August 8th, 2020
- Hollywood Is "Increasingly Normalizing" Self-Censorship for China, Report Finds - Hollywood Reporter - August 7th, 2020
- Rep. Buck wants Twitter's Jack Dorsey to testify about 'censorship of conservatives' and 'cozy' relationshi... - Fox News - August 7th, 2020
- Lee says Google, Facebook and Twitter are censoring conservative voices - Deseret News - August 7th, 2020
- The White Houses plan to purge Chinese tech from the internet is just bluster for now - The Verge - August 7th, 2020
- Is the Gov't Outsourcing Censorship Duties to FB & Google? - The Jewish Voice - August 7th, 2020
- Doctors' cries of censorship become part of their message - Poynter - August 6th, 2020
- Turkey takes Germany's hate speech law, and makes it much worse with its own censorship and data localization rules - Privacy News Online - August 6th, 2020
- Op-ed: Censorship and higher taxes won't create more Apples, Amazons, Facebooks and Googles - CNBC - August 6th, 2020
- Pence Says Administration Will 'Lean Into' Issue of Tech Censorship - Newsmax - August 6th, 2020
- GreatFire introduces app maker to bypass Chinas censorship - Reclaim The Net - August 6th, 2020
- Facebook removes pro-Trump ad aimed at Joe Biden, claiming false information - Fox News - August 6th, 2020
- #SavetheChildren Ban? Facebook Censors 'Save the Children' - Heavy.com - August 6th, 2020
- Censorship or fighting disinformation? Russia to use AI to create controversial fake news filter, as Facebook efforts stall - RT - August 6th, 2020
- The Italian journalist sets fire to Instagram bordering on censorship with her first bath - Explica - August 6th, 2020
- Facebook censors hydroxychloroquine praise, even in countries where its an official treatment - Reclaim The Net - August 6th, 2020
- Theft, censorship and the emperors of the online economy: Tech CEOs go on defense - POLITICO - August 4th, 2020
- How the New York Times profits from self-censorship - The Spectator USA - August 4th, 2020
- Some Facebook mods support the ads boycott, call for more censorship - Reclaim The Net - August 4th, 2020
- South Park: Why Episodes "200" and "201" Were Banned - Screen Rant - August 4th, 2020
- Free speech risk as university staff feel need to censor pro-Brexit views - The Scotsman - August 4th, 2020
- Greg Gutfeld on conservative censorship: 'Abuse only goes one way' - Fox News - August 3rd, 2020