Monday, March 07, 2022

Preparing South Africa for a Digital Age: FPB Amendments Act Signed Into Effect

 

Chairperson of Film and Publication Board council, Zama Mkosi during a press briefing on South Africa's Films and Publications Amendment Act, which was declared operational on 1 March (Photo via Jacques Nelles/The Citizen).

The South African Film and Publication Board, or FPB, held a briefing on Thursday discussing changes to the 2019 FPB Amendments Act and explained the expanded role of the FPB in protecting the public from harmful content in a digital age.

The role of the Film and Publication board or FPB is to regulate the content of films, games and certain publications through classifications. They do so by balancing freedom of speech with the obligation to protect families and young children from potentially harmful materials.

The 2019 FPB Amendments act is meant to bring the classification system more aligned with the national constitution. The FPB says this legislation prioritizes protection of children from harmful content and creates mechanisms for the board to regulate online platforms. 

The board said there was a need for new regulations because of the ever evolving digital sphere, which has now overtaken our society. They said these new regulations allow for the decriminalization of adult content on digital platforms. The regulations also create a system for independent, third-party classifying of content outside of the official; ratings given by the FPB.

The Amendment Act was signed into law and enacted last Tuesday, 1 March. The FPB held a briefing to discuss its impact later in the week. Deputy Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Philly Mapulane said signing the bill into law was monumental.

Mapulane said the amendments act was about balancing rights and responsibilities in our democratic Constitution in a new digital world.

According to the South African Audit Bureau of Circulation, daily newspaper circulation declined 14 percent last year, meanwhile mobile connections in the country grew by more than 3 million in that same span.

Mapulane said the reality of more reliance on digital platforms to provide information also means policy must adapt to suit the needs of the people.

The amendment act aims to provide greater clarity for online regulations and provide clear guidelines about punishments for violations.

Those new regulations seek to provide mechanisms for the public to report issues it sees in content moderation.

The act gives may also give the FPB a bit more power because it addresses what is public, what is commercial, and what the board is allowed to classify.      

At the briefing, Chairperson of the FPB Council, Zama Mkosi, said this act is a step toward progress. She said she believes it will help facilitate the flow of information across the country. 

Mkosi said the internet age brings both benefits and challenges. For example, it promotes freedom of expression, but it also creates more platforms for trauma.

The chairperson said while the new amendment act is progress, it isn’t perfect because the speed of the law rarely keeps up with the progress of technology.   

Mkosi said she believes the FPB Amendment act modernizes the law to bring it closer to the realities of the digital world. She said it does this through two approaches: self-regulation and distinguishing commercial from non-commercial distributors online.

An additional change brought by the amendment is the establishment of an enforcement committee which is a quasi-judicial program that conducts investigations into disputed cases of the FPB amendments act.

The department of communications said these changes to the amendment are aimed at protecting South Africans and preparing them for the digital age. 

The Department of Communications said it is prepared to engage with the public through workshops and listening sessions to ensure all South Africans are on the same page about the changes created by the FPB Amendments Act.


By Ben Rappaport 

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