/ 19 October 2006

Online media welcome further film Bill consultation

The Online Publishers Association (OPA) on Thursday cautiously welcomed the announcement of further consultation on South Africa’s controversial Film and Publications Amendment Bill.

In a submission to the home affairs portfolio committee, the OPA raised strong concerns over the impractical nature of implementing the legislation for online media and its potential harm to freedom of speech in South Africa.

The OPA represents South Africa’s key internet media owners and counts among its members the Mail & Guardian Online, MWeb, Media24, Iafrica.com, Ananzi, Independent Online and Business in Africa.

Following the announcement that the Bill would not be finalised in this session of Parliament, in order to allow time for greater consultation, the OPA submitted a detailed response to the portfolio committee.

The document highlights the specific challenges the Bill would raise for the online industry and agrees with the broader concerns of other media organisations. The OPA’s key concerns raised regarding to the online media environment include:

  • the hampering of an immediate response, critical to the business of online news media, to breaking news by the imposition of a censorship board;
  • the challenges in dealing with the immense amount of internet content generated in South Africa on a daily basis;
  • the inadequacy of the Bill in dealing with user-generated content, such as blogs, photos and video, or responses posted to articles; and
  • the complications of the use of hyperlinks to material elsewhere on the internet in articles.

”The OPA has strong concerns over the impractical nature and potential limits to free speech of the proposed Film and Publications Amendment Bill,” OPA chairperson Russell Hanly said in a statement on Thursday.

”The implications for online media, which relies on an immediate response to breaking news, are extremely concerning to our members. We also believe that the Bill does not adequately deal with the unique challenges of the online environment.”

Hanly said the OPA welcomes the further consultation announced by the government and will endeavour to help find a workable solution to the challenges of this legislation.

The OPA suggests in its response that aims of the Bill might be better served by self-regulation either by the press ombudsman or the creation of a specific online press ombudsman.

Earlier this week, the Freedom of Expression Institute criticised the proposed amendment to the Film and Publications Act, saying it would have violated the ability of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa to regulate broadcasting content independently of any other institution.

”The FXI welcomes the fact that Cabinet saw fit to postpone deliberations on the Bill, but hopes that the retrogressive attempts to subject the media to pre-publication censorship will not find their way back into the Bill, under the guise of curbing child pornography,” the institute said.