THE PORN WAR in Zimbabwe

17 Aug, 2014 - 06:08 0 Views
THE PORN WAR in Zimbabwe Through copyright, creators obtain a legal right to reproduce their work

The Sunday Mail

>> State losing battle on illicit material and piracy

Today it is as easy to buy pornographic material on the streets, as it is to buy a banana.

1408-2-1-POLICEThis is despite the country’s laws outlawing distribution of porn and a Censorship Board having been long established to enforce such legislation.

In the ’80s and ’90s, the authority was best known for splicing out “offensive” segments of movie reels, or completely banning them; but information technology advances mean the Censorship Board faces the mother of all tasks in living up to its mandate — which critics say is rather puritan in outlook but supporters say preserves the country’s moral values.

The mandate of the Censorship Board is to pass as fit any reading or viewing for the nation’s public consumption.

That worked when books, films and magazines had formal outlets like bookstores and movie houses. Not so easy to do when anyone can download anything on a computer or even a mobile phone.

Whilst it is understandable that the Censorship Board is largely out of its depth on this one, commentators say there is a palpable lethargy on the part of authorities — including the Zimbabwe Republic Police — when it comes to dealing with street vendors who are key drivers in the trade of illicit porn DVDs and generally engaging in rampant piracy of copyrighted work.

“We are enforcing the law through our licensing and inspectorate department to make sure that this trend is wiped out. What I can assure the nation is the police are not sleeping on duty,” says Harare provincial police spokesperson Chief Inspector Tedious Chibanda.

But daily, police in uniform are seen buying US$1 bootleg discs on the streets.

Chief Insp Chibanda responds to this thus: “We discourage the public from dealing with these pirates and when they encounter such cases, they should tip us so that we effect arrests. The bottom line is the public should remember that it is illegal to sell pirated work, let alone pornography. In most instances we operate in uniforms, meaning the vendors hide when they see us in the streets.”

Censorship Board secretary Isaac Chiranganyika maintains that the board has been highly effective within the formal system where it has control. Challenges, he noted, are within the unofficial platforms that they have little or no control over.

The major function of the board is to basically regulate public entertainment. But at the rate at which material is easily available, analysts question if the board has the stamina and wherewithall to keep abreast with the changes.

“Board members review all the movies that are watched in public places and come up with age restrictions that should be observed,” Chiranganyika insists. “When we recommend that an excision is needed, it has to be done and the responsible movie importer or movie house has to confirm in writing to us that they have done so. Excisions are not a challenge, technology allows for the process to be carried out smoothly for us to safeguard our norms and values.”

Apart from Internet downloads, significant amounts of pornographic material finds its way onto the local market through porous borders, especially with South Africa.

While it is a crime to be found in possession of pornographic material in Zimbabwe, it is a different case Down South, where such content is readily available in certain stores and where hotels charge anything from R100 to guests who want to view videos in the comfort of their rooms.

And with the extent of backward and forward movement between the two countries, enforcement is like stemming a dam breach with one’s two hands.

What compounds the headache for enforcers is that file-sharing formats are diverse.

Just about any digital device these days can be used to store and share data, and it is simply impossible for the police to stop every person with a flash stick.

“This issue of the obscene material flooding our informal market is out of our control. The Censorship Board does not condone this phenomenon and has been trying to work hand-in-glove with the police inspectorate department to make sure that those that are caught off-side are arrested.

“The problem though is the vendors have tricks that have made it possible for them to play hide-and-seek with the law enforcers,” says Chiranganyika, who says the judicial system has to evaluate if current sentences for convicted offenders are sufficiently deterrent.

“Thieves continue to steal despite being arrested every now and then. This is the same with these vendors. I cannot say the current sentences are not deterrent enough but it is up to the courts to review them if they are not helping solve the crisis.”

Without intending to be pessimistic, this is one war the authorities are not likely to win.

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