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President refuses to sign bill on films and publications, returns it to parliament

(MISA/IFEX) - President Kgalema Motlanthe has reportedly refused to sign the Films and Publications Amendment Bill, questioning its constitutionality and returning it "untouched" to Parliament.

The controversial bill, drafted by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and initially meant to fight child pornography, has been referred back to Parliament in terms of Section 79(1) of the Constitution.

Media lobby groups and opposition political parties believe that the bill, which centralises absolute power in the hands of the minister to decide what people see, read, hear or do, was a government's "hidden agenda" to control the media and restrict the flow of information.

Media rights activists in South Africa say the bill had the potential to be used as an effective tool for pre-publication censorship, at the whim of the government of the day. In terms of the bill, all material that runs afoul of the offending classification will have to be submitted for classification prior to publication. This includes all publications that contain visual presentations, descriptions or representations of the "offending material".

Media advocacy organisations in South Africa argue that the bill runs contrary to the principle that regulation of material should operate only once a complaint is received, dealt with and found to be valid. The bill also requires people to submit material for classification (ultimately approval) if they have created it for their own consumption, with no intention of distributing it. Media organisations contend that the Bill is an attempt to limit media freedom.

Updates the Films and Publications Bill case:

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