Amid conflicting opinions about the constitutionality of the Film and
Publications Amendment Bill, Parliament’s home affairs committee has
started probing ways to reinstate exemptions for news media from
prepublication classification while still holding them accountable, writes Wyndham Hartley in Business Day.

The committee heard in public hearings last week a barrage of testimony from media and media freedom organisations claiming that on a number of grounds the bill interfered with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and the constitutional role of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa).

Yesterday, lawyers from the home affairs department and the Film and Publications Board (FPB) were at odds with parliamentary legal advisers over whether the bill would pass constitutional muster without amendments. In contrast to the board’s view, Parliament’s legal adviser, Ntuthuzele Vanara, insisted that the removal of the exemptions and the granting of parallel authority to regulate broadcasting were unconstitutional.

When the proceedings got under way, African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) MP Steve Swart said that the bill as it was worded would have a disastrous effect on press freedom. The ACDP was concerned about the invasion of Icasa’s authority but also wanted everything possible done to eradicate child pornography.

He suggested that exemptions for news media from prepublication classification could be reinstated if the news media was still made criminally liable if it published or distributed child pornography. The ostensible aim of the legislation is to crack down on child pornography.

Swart said the media organisations that made submissions had denied ever publishing child pornography, and making them subject to the same criminal sanctions as others should not present a problem.

There was considerable confusion in the committee when it learned that a criminal prosecution was being investigated against Cape tabloid The Voice for publishing pictures of child rape on the Cape Flats. Swart said if it was possible to prosecute at the moment then he did not know what all the fuss was about and why the existing law needed any changes at all.

Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.