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Thursday, 15 October 2015 08:06

Increase in illegal online content a challenge

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One of the biggest challenges facing the country today is the proliferation of illegal content and easy access by children to illegal content distributed online, says Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.


Teens online

“Because of technology, child pornography and grooming is on the increase and distribution of hate speech and propaganda for war in social media has reached pandemic proportions. Recently, it was widely reported in the press that terrorist groups are now using social media to recruit young girls to join its ranks,” she said.

Speaking at the Film and Publication Board (FPB) African Media Content Classification and Online Child Protection Conference in Muldersdrift on Monday, the Minister said a cyber storm was raging throughout the African continent and globally.

“Our children are under siege and cybercrime, in the form of hate speech, child pornography, grooming, child exploitation, sexting, cyber bulling and online recruitment by terrorist groups is threatening to engulf us all.”

However, she said, not everything about technology is bad. “In fact there are more positives than negatives. The constant evolution of technology, and the advent of the social media age and increased internet connectivity, create a great potential for economic growth for our country and the rest of the world.”

Themba Wakashe, Chief Executive Officer of the Film and Publication Board (FPB) said through the conference, the FPB seeks to harmonise interventions in South Africa and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region that respond to protecting children across online platforms.

The role of the FPB is to regulate the distribution, creation and possession of films, games and certain publications. This is done through content classification and compliance monitoring.

When classifying content, the FPB's classification committee must always ensure that while promoting the distributor's or filmmaker's freedom of artistic expression, there is consideration to protect children against exposure to disturbing and harmful content.

The FPB has over the years embarked on a number of programmes that are aimed at addressing some of the challenges posed by the technological advancements, convergence of media platforms, new media and social networking sites.

Draft Online Regulation Policy

The FPB has developed and published the Draft Online Regulation Policy to provide a framework for online content distribution and regulation in the country. 

The overarching aim of the draft online policy is to create a framework for online content distribution in the country and to encourage responsible usage of new media and social networking sites by citizens.

The development of the draft online regulation policy was also born from the realisation that there is a need to protect children and to ensure that children are protected from scenarios where they can be drawn in by abusive online predators, and where they are at the risk of being utilised for child pornographic purposes.

The Minister pointed out that during the public consultation process held towards shaping the draft online policy there had been strong views that dictating what children may view and do online was a parent's job.

“As government we hold a view that whilst that may be true, it is not all parents who are able to do so. In fact, most parents are completely unaware of their children's online activities, hence government cannot abdicate its responsibilities to protect the children of this country,” she said.

Recent studies conducted by the FPB have shown that when it comes to child pornography, child exploitation and child trafficking, paedophiles and sex rings target countries where there is less enforcement or less penalties for these offences.

For this reason, Minister Muthambi said government and the FPB had come to the realisation that it can never claim to have made any progress in this space until the rest of the continent is on board.

In 2013, the FPB developed a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) engagement strategy to create a uniform approach to fighting child pornography, child exploitation and child trafficking as well as to ensure media content classification to protect children across the continent against premature exposure to disturbing and harmful media content.

Chairperson of the FPB Council, Thoko Mpumlwana, said: “This is not an easy journey … we are urging everyone to join us as we embark on this journey of cyber literacy to ensure that our children are growing up in a protected digital environment. It is our view that no children will be trafficked to or outside our country for pornographic purposes.”

The first day of the conference on Monday was themed: “Stolen innocence: how to protect children in the digital age”. 

The second day’s theme is: “Africa’s digital boom: a focus on Africa’s ICT growth potential”.