Protection of Information Bill threatens media freedom
PRETORIA, South Africa, July 23, 2010/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Lawmakers were warned again on 22 July 2010 that the Protection of Information Bill would not survive Constitutional Court scrutiny because it rides roughshod over media freedom and the democratic values of transparency and accountability.
Dario Milo, a partner at Webber Wentzel law firm, making a presentation on behalf of Print Media South Africa, said during his address to the Parliamentary committee that the bill which is meant to replace an apartheid-era law dating from 1982 could see investigative journalists face up to 25 years in jail for publishing information of public interest.
Similar to those who objected the bill, Milo argued that it seeks to create a climate of secrecy by defining national interest and information security so widely that information could arbitrarily be classified.
“The bill permits classification of documents that ought not to be classified at all in a constitutional democracy. This results in excessive secrecy and censorship of political expressions,” he said.
Raymond Louw, MISA-South Africa also explained that the bill gave the State excessive powers to shroud information in secrecy and had been stripped of safeguards contained in earlier versions. This has tightened the State’s grip on maintaining secrecy of information, it also has extended the powers of politicians over the classifying of information.
He said that an earlier embodiment of the bill, which has been on the drawing board since 2008, contained the cautionary clause that if there were doubts on whether something should be classified, it should not be. However, this has been replaced with a clause saying that in such cases the decision should be left up to the minister of the state security.
“This introduces political decision-making to what should be a decision based on factual criteria,” Louw said.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)