South Africa's National Assembly has officially passed the Films and Publications Amendment Bill, with the bill now scheduled to be sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa for assent.
The bill extends film censorship to online content and appoints The Film and Publications Board (FPB), the country's film censors, as arbiters of internet censorship of hate speech, revenge porn and website blocking.
Some of the other notable changes include:
Revenge porn: Under the bill, any person who knowingly distributes private sexual photographs and films without prior consent and with intention to cause the said individual harm shall be guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction.
Hate speech: The bill states that any person who knowingly distributes in any medium, including the internet and social media any film, game or publication which amounts to propaganda for war, incites imminent violence, or advocates hate
speech, shall be guilty of an offence.
Website blocking: If an internet access provider has knowledge that its services are being used for the hosting or distribution of child pornography, propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence or advocating hatred based on an
identifiable group characteristic it shall immediately remove this content, or be subject to a fine.
According to Dominic Cull of specialised legal advice firm, Ellipsis, the bill which is on its way to president Cyril Ramaphosa is extremely badly written. He notes that the introduction bill means that there is definite potential for abuse in
terms of infringement of free speech .
One of my big objections here is that if I upload something which someone else finds objectionable, and they think it hate speech, they will be able to complain to the FPB.
If the FPB thinks the complaint is valid, they can then lodge a takedown notice to have this material removed.
These sentiments were echoed by legal expert Nick Hall of MakeGamesSA, who said:
The big question around the bill has always been enforceability and the likelihood of the FPB to do anything with it. Practically, are they going to go after small-scale YouTubers? No, probably not, as they don't have the means to do so.
Instead, my concern has always been that the legislation becomes a tool for them to use censorship.
Despite the prevailing porn ban in Uganda, it can safely be said that pornographic materials and information has never been more consumed than now. The latest web rankings from Alexa show that Ugandans consume more pornographic materials and
information than news and government information, among other relevant materials.
The US website Porn555.com is ranked as the 6th most popular website in Uganda, ahead of Daily Monitor, Twitter, BBC among others.
The country's internet censors claim to have blocked 30 of the main porn websites so perhaps that is the reason for porn555 to be the most popular rather then the more obvious PornHub, YouPorn, xHamster etc.
The number of people using the internet in Uganda has dropped by 26% since July 2018, when the country's social media tax was put into force. Prior to the tax's implementation, 47.4% of people in Uganda were using the internet. Three months after
the tax was put in place, that number had fallen to 35%.
ISPs charge an additional 200 Ugandan shillings (UGX) in social media tax on top of the ISP access fees and standard sales tax. This is nominally 5.4 US cents but is a significant portion of typical Ugandan incomes.
President Yoweri Museveni and several government officials said this was intended to curb online rumor-mongering and to generate more tax revenue.
The tax was the subject of large-scale public protests in July and August 2018. During one protest against the tax, key opposition leader, activist and musician Bobi Wine noted that the tax was enforced to oppress the young generation.
The government expected to collect about UGX 24 billion in revenue from the tax every quarter. But in the first quarter after the tax's implementation, they collected UGX 20 billion. In the second quarter, ending December 2018, they had collected
only UGX 16 billion.
While some people have gone offline altogether, others are simply finding different and more affordable ways to connect. People are creating shared access points where one device pays the tax and tethers the rest as a WiFi hotspot, or relying on
workplace and public area WiFi networks to access the services.
Other Ugandans are using Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications to bypass the tax. In a statement for
The Daily Monitor , the Uganda Revenue Authority's Ian Rumanyika argued that people could not use the VPNs forever, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
In addition to leaving Ugandans with less access to communication and diminished abilities to express themselves online, it has also affected economic and commercial sectors, where mobile money and online marketing are essential components of