You might not know it, but our internet freedom is under threat. We have been working hard to make sure that our access to the digital world doesn’t get restricted. It seems that our efforts are paying off.

Last week the Portfolio Committee on Communications heard a report from Parliamentary Legal Services (PLS) regarding the Film and Publications Amendment Bill, a controversial bill that threatens internet freedom in South Africa. During their report, PLS asked one of the same questions that one of our attorneys, Nicholas Hall, raised in his written commentary of the Bill: is the Act even relevant anymore?

Our submission defends internet freedom

We have spoken before about how the Bill threatens internet freedom. During the committee’s call for submissions, Nicholas raised all of these points and more in a detailed written and oral submission to the committee. This submission was one of the largest that the committee dealt with in the proceedings, and it formed the basis of a large part of the Film and Publication Board’s (FPB) responses.

PLS seems to suffer from a complex-law problem, and their report was difficult to follow and not in plain language. But they raised some very good points that could have far-reaching consequences for the Bill. Firstly, they showed that the Bill seems to have been drafted using an old version of the Act – the Bill references sections that were repealed by earlier amendments and court rulings. Secondly, the Bill fails to take into account the Constitutional Court case of Print Media South Africa v Minister of Home Affairs, which ruled pre-publication classification unconstitutional. The court limited its ruling to news print media, but PLS said that the logic of the ruling was a very good indication that the courts were not happy with the idea of pre-publication classification from the start, in any form. It is strange, then, that the Act (and the new amendment) seeks to keep pre-publication classification alive.

PLS’s final point was about the relevancy of the Act itself. The Act aimed to serve two main purposes: the first to protect children from harm through making child pornography illegal; and the second to enforce the first by requiring pre-publication classification. If the Constitutional Court regards the second purpose as unconstitutional, the only thing left would be the illegality of child pornography. But child pornography is already made illegal by the Criminal Law Sexual Offences Amendment Act. This means that the Film and Publications Act has no meaningful reason to exist anymore.

We live-tweeted and collated the various meetings for you to follow. These include the oral submissions, the deliberations, and the most recent committee meeting.

The Bill going forward

The portfolio committee postponed their final decision regarding the future of the Bill to a later date. They have asked the FPB to present at this final meeting and discuss all of the points that have been raised. It is very unlikely that the committee will approve the Bill, and we are confident that it will be scrapped and sent for a full redrafting. Based on the questions raised in the previous meeting, it is even likely that the committee will recommend the current Film and Publications Act be reviewed entirely. If this happens, and it is found to be irrelevant, it is very possible that the Act will be repealed.

Thank you to all involved

We would like to offer congratulations to Nicholas Hall and all of the industry members who helped submit responses to the portfolio committee. He did a great job in keeping South African law clear, efficient, and meaningful.