With the July 15 deadline for public submissions on the Film and Publications Board’s Draft Online Regulation Policy now behind us, the Rigth2Know Campaign can take encouragement from the huge public outcry against the regulations over the past few months. Since March we have protested outside the FPB offices in Centurion, secured over 8,500 signatures in opposition to the draft policy, engaged the FPB directly at public hearings and debated them on live radio. It remains to be seen what the FPB will do with the advice and criticism it has received.
The Legal Resource Centre recently submitted a legal opinion on the draft regulations for R2K. The opinion shows that the draft regulations are plainly unconstitutional. R2K can also count as a partial victory the FPB’s decision to defer regulation of online news content to the Press Council. But it is not just the online press that we are concerned about. The draft regulations are broad enough to include just about everyone who uses the internet.
Nobody should be subject to the draconian censorship regime that the FPB envisions. It is a view echoed by the thousands across South Africa who have signed our online petition, as well as civil society and rights groups from as far afield as Bangladesh, where this year alone three secular bloggers have been murdered.
At home we face these threats on many fronts. Our telecoms companies, for example, reap windfall profits at the expense of ordinary South Africans, especially poor and working class families who are priced out of the digital economy. The massive digital divide in this country inhibits the internet from being the transformative, democratising force it could be.
In recent weeks our government signed a shady “plan of action” on information and communication technology with China, one of the most repressive countries in the world for internet users. And in May, the Right2Know Campaign drew attention to plans by Facebook to lure users into a highly controlled and insecure online environment under the guise of providing free internet access. These developments caution us to be ever vigilant against the threats to our freedom of expression and right to access and impart information online.
In the meantime, the FPB has announced dates for a fresh round of public consultations on the draft regulations. We welcome this and will continue our robust opposition to the draft regulations. We continue to demand an end to internet censorship and for the draft regulations to be scrapped in their entirety!
We remind members of the public to sign the online petition calling for the draft regulations to be scrapped.
You can download R2K’s FPB submission here.