Films and Publications Act, 1996

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Films and Publications Act, 1996
Houses of Parliament (Cape Town).jpg
Act to provide for the classification of certain films and publications; to that end to provide for the establishment of a Film and Publication Board and a Film and Publication Review Board; to repeal certain laws; and to provide for matters connected therewith.
Citation Act No. 65 of 1996
Enacted by Parliament of South Africa
Date assented to 30 October 1996
Date commenced 1 June 1998
Films and Publications Amendment Acts, 1999, 2004 and 2009
Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, 2004
Status: In force

The Films and Publications Act, 1996 is an act of the South African Parliament.

The original focus of censorship under the Act

This Act came into being shortly after South Africa achieved its liberation from the apartheid regime.

It repealed a number of pieces of draconian legislation that had been promulgated under the apartheid regime and its satellite semi-autonomous and dependent race based geographical entities (see its Schedule 12).

It established a Film and Publication Board ("Board"), and Review Board. The Board's function would be to receive complaints, or applications to evaluate, a film or publication, to classify it according to its suitability for different audiences

The classification of a film or publication would trigger various prohibitions on possessing, exhibiting, distributing or advertising the film or publication.

Focus was on defining and enforcing various prohibitions on films or publications that advocated war, violence, and hatred especially if based on race, ethnicity, gender and religion.

Certain key exemptions from prohibitions were made to the scientific community (in regard to bona fide scientific, documentary, dramatic, artistic, literary or religious films and publications), and the media (in that those holding a broadcasting license were exempt form the duty to apply for classification).

How censorship under the Act has changed

Focus on the child

There has been a real focus on ensuring that censorship is to the benefit of the child, by inserting definitions of "child abuse", and "child pornography".

Focus on new media

There has also been a real focus on bringing the whole gamut of films and publications and games that re-delivered on or through the internet or used by way of a computer into the ambit of the Act.

There are now for example definitions of "internet address", "interactive computer game", "possession" that includes digital possession.

Focus on implementation

There has been an increasing power by the Board to employ a fleet of "classifiers" to deal with applications and submissions to the Board, under a "classification office" and "classification committees".

There has been a stream-lining of functions away from a long drawn out review process, to a fast track appeal process (for example by setting the dealing to start the appeal to three months of the decision) and there has been the introduction of compliance officers.

Even the court process is streamlined by the set of presumptions in the Act as to who bears the onus of proof in cases that come before court under this Act (the onus is against the accused).

Focus on reducing exemptions

The exemptions from the scrutiny of films and publications by the Board have been severely limited.

Focus on enforcement by service providers and others

Internet Service Providers are now obliged to register with the Board, take steps to prevent the use of their services for hosting or distribution of child pornography, and to moderate and monitor various services with the Act in mind.

Even if a citizen or permanent resident of South Africa commits an act outside of the Republic, which would constitute an offence in the Republic, they shall be guilty of an offence and liable to the penalty under the Act.


The South Africa Film and Publications Act, No. 65 of 1996 can be seen[by whom?] to demonstrate the move of the liberation state from concern for its citizens and residents, to forcing them to comply, using increasingly draconian tactics, which put an accused at a severe disadvantage as regards the burden of proof, and puts the media in the impossible position of having to submit material to the Board before publication.


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