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Constitutional Court declares sections of Films & Publications Act unconstitutional

The Constitutional Court has today ruled in favour of the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) and Print Media South Africa now Print & Digital Media South Africa (PDMSA) in a crucial test-case for freedom of expression.

The court found that sections of the Films and Publications Act requiring pre-publication classification of material dealing with “sexual conduct”
limited the freedom of expression vital to a democracy and offended against the constitution.

It ruled that the limitation was neither proportional to its objectives, nor justifiable, and that less restrictive means could be used to achieve the same outcomes.

While mainstream newspapers were exempted from these rules, all other publications, including magazines, books, artworks, and Internet speech were not. The requirement to submit for classification before publishing anything containing sexual conduct (which includes books about sexual abuse, for example), impacted on all publishers, and so this is a victory for the public’s right to receive information.

Sanef is delighted with the judgement. It represents an important affirmation of the principle that pre-publication restraints on speech are particularly constitutionally offensive, and that robust protections for free speech are fundamental to our democratic order.

Issued by the SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF)
28 September 2012