Don’t insult our intelligence

2011-09-10 11:04

Your editorial of last Sunday, titled “Stand with us in your right to know” refers.

The good thing about being an editor and writing an editorial comment is that you have a wide choice, not only about the subject, but also about the extent to which you are willing to go to put your point across.

You cut the cloth to suit your design.

The choice you made last week ignored factual considerations and you chose to go the emotional route, riddled with misleading assertions, which exposed your understanding, or shall we say poor understanding, of the subject matter.

We understand your position and that of the media in general, regarding the Protection of State Information Bill.

We have no qualms about the position you take to oppose this bill. That is the one of the benefits that our Constitution and the democratic system, which we fought so hard for, provide to all citizens and residents in this country.

You go to great lengths invoking the readers’ emotions about how this bill, when it becomes law, would hinder your work and “prevent you from reporting” on the kind of stories you pursue.

You then give a list of stories that you claim “the readers will not be able to read about because the documents you use to generate such stories would be classified”.

None of the stories referred to would pass the most basic of classification conditions set out in this bill.

Your assertion reveals a worrying development by commentators who do not understand the changes and innovations included in this bill.

Many, like you, did not read the versions produced by the ad hoc committee that processed this bill.

National security will be used as a basis for classification.

The stories you are referring to have absolutely nothing to do with national security and one fails to understand how they could be classified so that your journalists would have difficulty reporting them.

How are tenders linked to national security? How can matters of property the state holds on behalf of its citizens be linked to national security?

In advancing your argument about your unhappiness at our rejection of the “public interest defence”, do not insult the intelligence of your readers.

The bill has been amended to limit the scope of application and a number of safety valves have been built into it to even criminalise wrongful classification by the authorities.

I am a proud member of the ANC who participated in the processing of this bill in Parliament. We spent many months deliberating on how best we could balance the right to access to information and national security.

We engaged each other as members of the ruling party and the opposition, and we made concessions where there were legitimate concerns.

In the words of DA MP on the committee, Dene Smuts, “this process was a vindication of the democratic parliamentary system”.

The fact that we differed on the issue of the public interest defence does not suddenly makes us undemocratic or unconstitutional. On the contrary, it reveals the maturity of our democratic system.

» Landers is an ANC MP and chair of the ad hoc committee on the bill 

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