Through the proposed regulations, a clampdown on freedom of speech looms for all internet publishers in South Africa and anyone in the country writing a blog or even doing a Facebook posting.
The civil society watchdog organisation, The Right2Know Campaign, in a strongly-worded statement, is now warning South Africa, the media and citizens, and demanding that the FPB scrap the draft Online Regulation Policy document which was gazetted on 4 March.
The watchdog organisations says the FBP must stop the attempt to exercise "pre-publication censorship" of the internet in South Africa.
According to the Right2Know Campaign, the censorship regulations would infrige on the South African public's right to freely get information – as well as to impart information – a right enshrined in the South African Constitution.
"The target of this regulation is not just major distributors, but also individuals," says the Right2Know Campaign. "In terms of the wording of the document, everything published on the internet – including blogs, personal websites and Facebook pages".
Online distribution agreement
According to the document, anyone in South Africa – from individuals to publishers and media organisations – who wish to publish or distribute content will have to first "apply" for a "digital publisher's online distribution agreement" with the Film and Publication Board.
This will require a subscription fee.
In addition, once paid, the publisher would have to submit the content to the FPB for classification prior to publishing. "This effectively is a specific form of pre-publication censorship, which is not acceptable," says the Right2Know Campaign.
"Moreover, the time spent on the pre-classification of content would undermine one of the most valuable traits of the internet – its immediacy."
"There is also a very real threat that in the future, organisations lacking in resources and unable to afford costly subscription fees, such as community-oriented news outlets and civil society groups, will be severely hampered by the unnecessarily bureaucratic regulations envisioned by the FPB."
"These online media outlets provide a valuable contribution to the diversity of the South African media landscape. The FPB draft regulations will disenable this diversity."
'Classifiers' dispatched to your premises
The Right2Know Campaign says that "worryingly, the regulations would allow the FPB to dispatch classifiers to the distributors' premises for the purposes of classifying digital content."
Furthermore "distributors would have to ensure that the work of classifiers takes place unhindered and without interference."
"The vague wording of the regulations would allow for 'classifiers’ to visit, for example, the homes of citizen journalists and ordinary internet users. Such sweeping powers reek of apartheid-era censorship, whose advocates similarly relied on the guise of moralising arguments," says the Right2Know Campaign.
'Ignorance of how the internet works'
The Right2Know Campaign says the shocking draft regulations "reveals a massive ignorance on the part of the FPB on how the internet actually works."
The Right2Know Campaign says "the FPB has failed to adequately consult with relevant stakeholders before drafting the document."
"Only industry stakeholders were invited to participate behind closed doors, while civil society was excluded from the process despite the fact that the regulations could have profound consequences for ordinary members of the public."
"The Right2Know Campaign condemns this latest attempt to broaden the power of authorities to censor and restrict publishable content — the sort of action characteristic of an increasingly overbearing, paranoid and insecure state."
"The Right2Know Campaign demands that the Film and Publications Board immediately withdraw the draft online regulation policy document."
"The FPB must desist from any attempt to regulate internet content. We already have laws to protect our children, and laws on hate speech. The FPB's draft online regulations smack of unnecessary censorship, are unconstitutional and must be scrapped."