The controversial Films and Publications Amendment Bill came under fire
in Parliament again yesterday, as media organisations suggested certain
clauses were unconstitutional, writes Wyndham Hartley in Business Day.

When the bill was dealt with in the home affairs committee, and when it was approved by the National Assembly, it was sharply criticised. Now that it is before Parliament’s upper house, interested parties are again trying to have the offending clauses removed from the bill.

The home affairs department has claimed that the purpose of the tough clauses in the bill was to crack down on child pornography so as to protect SA’s children better. It has denied that there is any intention to curtail press freedom.

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), in public hearings before the select committee on social services, said yesterday “certain amendments had been made to the first draft to (meet) concerns raised by representatives of the print and broadcast media industry”.

However, Sanef expressed concern that the amendments did not go far enough. “In Sanef’s view the second draft of the bill unjustifiably infringes on the right to freedom of expression protected by section 16 of the constitution and will not pass constitutional muster in its present form.”

Sanef deputy chairman Henry Jeffries said the exemption from prepublication classification was applied to Newspaper Association of SA members only.

So other “daily, weekly, foreign and community newspapers as well as consumer, trade, technical, professional and other specialist magazines” were not covered by the exemption.

“Under the bill, they will now be required to engage in the mandatory submission of their publications for preapproval by the Film and Publications Board. This amounts to a prior restraint on the freedom of expression. Prior restraints have been found to be unconstitutional in a number of decisions by our courts,” Sanef said.

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