Government wants to regulate online streaming services

Last month, the then Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo told the media that she was set to present a draft white paper on the Audio-Visual and Digital Content Policy for SA to parliament before publishing it for public comment.

The now Minister of Home Affairs confirmed that government was working on a draft document that would outline new regulations dealing with South Africa’s shift away from television to online streaming services.

“The current(draft white paper) revises the Broadcasting Act of 1999 to respond to the new challenges, the overall broadcasting paradigm that is changing and constitutes a decisive step by government to reflect and respond to the changes brought about by convergence over broadband networks,” she said.

The white paper will update the broadcasting policy to:

  • Create a fairer environment for traditional broadcasters, video-on-demand providers and video-sharing platforms;
  • Promote South African content;
  • Promote diversity of voices in the media, nation building and social cohesion;
  • Propose approaches and strategies to deal with the broadcasting spectrum over the next years;
  • Propose new approaches to protect children, minors, and the vulnerable;
  • Limit availability and ability to tackle on/off line harmful material and hate speech better.

The Minister also indicated that she would continue to challenge the Film and Publications Board (FPB) to protect children and consumers from exposure to harmful and illegal content online.

One of plans is to extend the current rating system and content regulatory regime to online content-providing services (like Netflix, and other streaming services).

“The role of the FPB has previously been distinct as distribution of content that fell within the jurisdiction of FPB was easily identifiable. Films were either distributed via VHS, DVD and in cinema, while publications were in your pre-packaged magazines and books,” she said.

The Minister indicated that because technology has moved to online streaming and digital platforms, this has left consumers and children vulnerable with access to content that government deems inappropriate.

In light of the recent developments around the Disney Channel in South Africa, it looks as if South Africa will be following in the footsteps of a few countries that made internet censorship a major priority.

Disney Channel South Africa pulled the coming-of-age tween show Andi Mack after it was banned in Kenya over a gay storyline in its second season. The Disney Channel SA released a statement that it had to adhere to regulations in the territories it serves across Africa and the Middle East.

Here’s a snippet of the gay storyline from the show:

This is the type of censorship that members of the industry and the public were concerned about when The Films and Publications Amendment Bill 2015 was proposed. It was highly criticised over concerns that it would be used as a censorship tool by government to regulate online content.

This means FPB will be allowed to regulate user-generated content (such as YouTube videos, pictures, and music), and possibly the blocking of non-compliant online distributors at an ISP level.

Just last year, the FPB warned Netflix that it would approach the courts for an interdict to block it from operating in South Africa if the streaming service did not comply with South African content classification laws.

The Department of Communications has not yet made any new announcement regarding the new draft policy. We will keep you updated on the developments and when it is open for public to comment.

Do you think online content should be regulated? Share your opinion below:

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