On October 4 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a bill dubbed the “Internet Censorship Bill” designed to curb online abuse and harassment. However, the bill has been widely criticised for being poorly written and the level of power afforded to the Film and Publications Board (FPB).
The bill was proposed and presented under a child safety guidelines banner. With online content increasingly prevalent amongst the youth from games and films harsher regulation was presented to regulate the content.
“It was hoped that the regulations would carve out broad exemptions for non-commercial user-generated content, and give more specificity on what the FPB considers to be commercial, but sadly that has not been done,” said Nicholas Hall, the CEO of Interactive Entertainment South Africa in an interview with MyBroadband.
From a games industry perspective, what this means is games developed in South Africa with an online component may be subject to stringent censorship. For an industry arguably leading the way across the continent, this would be a major setback as well as set a dangerous precedent that could see it being deployed as a political tool.
The issue of censorship rears its head, when you consider the FPB essentially takes on the role of an adjudicator, for all things related to digital content. Content makers in need of classification for their work? That falls on the FPB, which under the new guidelines would have the right of refusal.It’s a slippery slope.
If someone complains, the FPB can pull that content and require it to be classified… Until such time that it’s been classified, it’s not allowed, Nick Hall added.
It remains to be seen if the legislation will overcome any outstanding hurdles but it’s significance can’t be overstated for the gaming industry in South Africa and the rest of the continent.