Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Draft media bill raises concern

By Nadia Samie

A draft legislation to amend the Films and Publications Act is still in its early stages, yet it has already caused concern among media watchdogs.

It is believed that the amendment bill, which was intended to mend loopholes regarding child pornography, threatens media freedom. If the proposal, as it is now, is accepted by parliament, it would mean that the print and broadcast media would be subjected to dictates of the board.

The Act is in place to regulate films and publications other than news media by classification, and determines the age restrictions on films, and how they should be displayed in shops, amongst other duties.

Now the three biggest media freedom organisations in the country – the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), the South African Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) – have expressed shock at what they call the “government’s intention to impose direct censorship on the print and broadcast media”.

Meanwhile the Democratic Alliance has issued a statement encouraging public hearings on the bill, saying also that the opinions of media experts should be considered.

According to reports, the new bill would mean that the media could be subjected to pre-publication censorship. The media industry is at present regulated by the press ombudsman, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC).

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