On 26 January 2021 The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) and the Press Council hosted a briefing on the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) recently published Draft White Paper on Audio and Audio-visual Content Services Policy Framework: A New Vision for South Africa 2020.
The briefing was arranged to assist journalism bodies and media houses to better understand the proposed regulation and to help them in responding to the invitation for public comment, which is due on 15 February.
It is important for press stakeholders to engage with the draft White paper because if the final policy follows the proposals set out in the draft, the landscape for the regulation of journalistic content – particularly online video – will dramatically change.
The draft policy proposes statutory licensing of popular online video outlets, administered by ICASA, which will be applicable to traditional journalism outlets which have never been subject to licensing requirements.
Many of these publications are currently subscriber members of the Press Council, complying with the Press Code when they publish the online video.
One of the key questions that journalists asked after they saw the draft White Paper, was why the proposed policy does not follow the pattern already established in our law, in compliance with media freedom provisions in the Constitution: namely to provide for exemptions for Press Code subscribers (such as in the Film and Publications Act) or for journalistic content (such as in POPIA and other legislation, or for other forms of voluntary regulation.
Collin Mashile, Department of Communications Chief Director: broadcasting policy, said the following:
“We do respect Media Freedom, diversity and pluralism and the transparency related thereto. I was responsible for the films and the publications amendment bill and there-in we had recognised the self-regulatory nature of the press, but I think the issue we will need to assist the department with is around, as we move towards the 4IR and online environment, we have press that will generate online or audio-visual content that will look like your broadcasting content.
So, what we are saying to you is that, as the press, as the people that will own websites, that will own content, if you can indicate how you want that regulated going forward. The lay of the land as it is currently, FPB is the one that is responsible for Internet, Icasa is responsible for broadcasting and there is a policy intended to move towards one content classification mechanism and one content regulation, hence I think the Minister announced that there is an intention to merge Icasa with FPB and (dot.za) because it is the recognition that everything is merging and that everything is moving online. Our approach is to respect the development that has happened around the press, the press developed in a self-regulatory mechanism, hence in broadcasting we have the BCCSA and related to others but with ICASA having the backstop powers so that when the BCCSA matters fail ICASA as the regulator will have that mechanism.
We have been following developments across the globe, Australia and the commonwealth in general and the UK around the press development and all the enquiries related to the emergency of the online platform.it will really assist us to say from your side as you are being affected with these digital platforms how they merge.
“We had an engagement as the department, FPB and the self-regulatory body of the press and I think they were looking to say this is what we believe should fall within the press self-regulatory mechanism and this is what we believe should fall within the FPB, so as we are moving towards these conversions and wanting to have one classification mechanism and one regulatory environment, it will assist to say moving forward, this is how we believe or this is how we would feel comfortable with being regulated as the press and the press owners or would have online content that looks like broadcasting and that is regulated elsewhere and how do we believe as South African content we should be regulated.
We have not taken any decision but will appreciate your input and direction in terms of how do you see your future within this new 4IR regulation.”
The presentation by Ms Ntombi Makwetu, Director: Creative Industries of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies is available here: Audio and Audio Visual Content Policy Presentation _11 NOVEMBER 2020 DCDT (002) as well as the full recording of the two-hour session.