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New law introduces media censorship

Journalists, editors and publishers ‘not recognised' by the South African press ombudsman and ‘not adhering to its code of conduct' face the prospect of being jailed for five years or a fine, or both, if they fail to submit their copies or material prior to publication or broadcast, exhibition or distribution to the Films and Publications Board (FPB) for approval. This is according to the newly-signed Films and Publications Amendment Act 3 of 2009.
The aim is to check if the material contains sexual conduct which violates or shows disrespect for the right to human dignity of any person, degrades a person, constitutes incitement to cause harm, advocates propaganda for war. The FPB also wants to ensure that the material is free from inciting violence or advocating hatred based on any identifiable group characteristic.

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) says it is disappointed by the signing of bill into law, calling it problematic and adding that it violates section 16(2) of the Constitution.

FXI acting executive director Melissa Moore said last week: “The Amendment Act constitutes a grave intrusion of the right to freedom of expression. To this end we are of the view that certain sections of the Amendment Act fail dismally in giving effect to the right to freedom of expression.

"Most intrusive"

“The most intrusive element of the act is that, under the guise of the ‘protection of children's rights' the legislature has introduced a system of pre-publication censorship and self-censorship which offends against the letter and spirit of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.”

It is believed the law could also be used to curtail service delivery reporting and force journalists to reveal their confidential sources of information - a practice mostly used in many African countries.

This is the first time in post-apartheid SA that such a draconian media law has been introduced, and Moore said this practice will open the regulation of publications, films and games up to abuse and uncertainty and inhibit the free flow of information.

“What they fail to realise is the fact that it is not the prerogative of an organ of state to dictate to society what they may read, see, hear or do,” she pointed out.

New offence

The act also introduces a new offence in SA law, Moore said, requiring that anyone who knows of, suspects or has reason to suspect, that an offence has been or is being committed under the provisions of the Act to furnish the police with a full report of such knowledge or suspicion, failing which such person shall be guilty of an offence.

Furthermore, she slammed the law for promoting unequal treatment before the law.

She said: “It is unequivocally unfair to grant one group of publishers an absolute exemption from the requirement to submit material for classification.

“We don't imply that all publishers should be required to submit their material to the FPB for approval prior to publication. On the contrary, all publishers in the market should be similarly exempt from this requirement. To grant a group of publishers such an exemption would also grant that group an unfair market advantage over the disadvantaged group in terms of time, cost and effort.”

About Issa Sikiti da Silva

Issa Sikiti da Silva is a winner of the 2010 SADC Media Awards (print category). He freelances for various media outlets, local and foreign, and has travelled extensively across Africa. His work has been published both in French and English. He used to contribute to as a senior news writer.
Just don't discuss this..-
Just don't discuss this on your cellphone!
Posted on 7 Sep 2009 17:27
I am outraged-
Well done, Mr. Da Silva, on continuing to keep us abreast of Big Brother's antics. When press freedom is compromised, the freedom of the people is also compromised - as one can see happened north of our borders not so very long ago. One wonders how long before we get claims that our Constitution too is "Just a piece of paper" - as Bush allegedly said of the US constitution?
Posted on 7 Sep 2009 18:00
And blogs?-
Where does this leave bloggers? Free to say and do what they like I hope.
Posted on 7 Sep 2009 18:55
NPA won't prosecute-
Which is incorrect. The ANC doesn't decide what the law says the courts do, but in In terms of section 20 of the National Prosecuting Authority Act, No 32 of 1998, the power to institute and conduct criminal proceedings on behalf of the State (and to discontinue criminal proceedings) vests in the national prosecuting authority - ( The ANC is using this legislation as a ruse to cut down free speech which is why this law won't be enforced by the NPA. You can phone the and ask them. If the NPA won't prosecute you for violating this legislation then the courts can't convict you.
Posted on 8 Sep 2009 21:08
Stop the Rot
Absolute Nonsense-
This violates the constitution OUTRIGHT, the public need to take this matter to the constitutional court as a mass action. This ANC government who can freely speak their MINDS have made a mockery out of this country's constitution, which right now is not worth the paper it is written on. This kind of BULL cannot be allowed to fly, where was the public participation in passing such a stupendous piece of law ??? if you can call this law ??? What a sick joke this government is.
Posted on 9 Sep 2009 16:50
Stop the Rot
RE: NPA won't prosecute-
Until they put Julius MaDlema in charge of the NPA.
Posted on 9 Sep 2009 16:56
Over the Moon
Its about time!!!-
If only the Press Ombudsman will acknowledge these - and this will ease the pressure off this toothless body.
Posted on 10 Sep 2009 16:06
Dianne - getclosure!
Freedom of expression for consumers-
Freedom of expression is something which has been argued over for many years, particularly when it comes to media reporting. A good point was made above about blogs, also referred to as citizen journalism. Will bloggers also have their freedom to write taken away from them? Hopefully not. When it comes to writing about service delivery, consumers should have every right to voice their opinions and share their stories, whether positive or negative. And the flipside of this is that businesses should always be given the opportunity to respond. It will be interesting to see what the Press Ombudsman reports on this matter.
Posted on 21 Sep 2009 10:29

Let's do Biz