With so much attention focused on the US when it comes to self-publishing, it’s easy to forget that this is a worldwide indie author movement, and that companies like Kobo are connecting readers across the globe, making it possible for a reader in Denmark to enjoy a work of science fiction written by an author in sub-Saharan Africa. But while US authors happily further the cause of literature by opening up new avenues and new titles to audiences, authors in some other countries are facing insurmountable obstacles that block the cause of free expression.
A campaign currently at work in South Africa, for example, is calling on individuals to block a government-approved effort by the Film and Publications Board’s (FPB) that would essentially impose censorship on any internet-vehicled content. While the letter of the law in the draft of the proposed regulation doesn’t specifically mention authors, it is this vast open-endedness that has anti-censorship advocates and grassroots organizations like Right2Know working to stop this effort.
According to an article by Micah Reddy and Julie Reid on the proposed regulations and the efforts to halt them, “The document, in its vague language and open-ended statements, would leave authorities with far too much room to infringe on the public’s right to freely receive and impart information as enshrined in chapter two of the Constitution.
“The document states that: ‘Any person who intends to distribute any film, game, or certain publication in the Republic of South Africa shall first comply with section 18(1) of the [1996 Films and Publications] Act by applying, in the prescribed manner, for registration as film or game and publications distributor.'”
It’s a small step towards censorship when an author or content creator must apply for licensing and have his work approved prior to publication, and the ambiguous nature of this proposal means it can easily extend to books, blogs, social media posts, and other forms of digital publication. How serious is the implied threat?
“Worryingly, the regulations would allow the FPB to ‘dispatch classifiers to the distributors’ premises for the purposes of classifying digital content.’ Distributors would have to ‘ensure that the work of classifiers takes place unhindered and without interference.’ The vague wording of the regulations would allow for ‘classifiers’ to visit, for example, the homes of citizen journalists and ordinary internet users.”
So who would concoct such a regulation? Parties with a vested interest in blocking the publication and distribution of content they feel is inappropriate, inflammatory, or even just unworthy.
“It is also apparent that the FPB is overstepping its legal boundaries. The Films and Publications Act of 1996 only gives the FPB the ability to issue guidelines, not to legislate. Additionally the Act gives the FPB jurisdiction over films and games, but not over all published content. The FPB has failed to adequately consult with relevant stakeholders before drafting the document.
“Only industry stakeholders were invited to participate behind closed doors, while civil society was excluded from the process despite the fact that the regulations could have profound consequences for ordinary members of the public. The Right2Know Campaign condemns this latest attempt to broaden the power of authorities to censor and restrict publishable content — the sort of action characteristic of an increasingly overbearing, paranoid and insecure state.”