ANC considers a public interest defence

2011-11-12 20:04

The ANC is considering adding a public interest defence to the so-called secrecy bill, as suggested by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

This was revealed to City Press by ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga after it emerged that the bill will return to Parliament this week.

The National Assembly will refer the bill back to the ad hoc committee constituted to deal with it.

A public interest clause will give the media the freedom to publish state secrets deemed to be in the public’s interest.

During a meeting with the parliamentary press gallery association, Motlanthe said during talks last month between the government and the SA National Editors Forum, “it had been explained to us that the way they (editors) look at it is that a judge... must be the one who tests such a defence, that it’s not automatic”.

He added: “I find that to be very helpful – if that’s the understanding, it then creates a meeting point.”

According to Motshekga, Motlanthe’s comments are important.

“He is a leader of the ANC and an MP – what he says carries much weight. He is there to provide leadership.”

According to Motshekga a final decision has not been taken on the matter, but a public interest defence is being discussed.

The ANC wants this process to be done by the time Parliament ends its term at the end of ­November.

The ANC undertook a countrywide consultation process after widespread criticism of the bill.

The party gave assurances to businesspeople this week that the bill will be subject to proper public scrutiny and not just internal processes.

In a meeting with the Southern African Swiss Chamber of Commerce, the ANC was warned that tampering with free speech would make it difficult to sell South Africa as an investment destination.

“Freedom of speech is one of the holy grails of democracy and is not taken lightly by international investors.

“We get worried when there is tampering with freedom of speech,” the chamber’s chairperson, Juerg Schlach, told City Press.

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