Stand with us in your right to know

2011-09-03 20:21

These are the stories we would not be able to tell you about if the Protection of Information Bill, passed by a special parliamentary committee on Friday, is made law.

We would not be able to tell you about the black child who was photographed as the dead bounty of a white uniformed trophy hunter because the story is subject to a Hawks ­investigation and some of our reporting was based on documents that could be classified by the information law.

Possession of classified information has been criminalised and is subject to a jail term in the draft law.

While the ability to classify has been limited, it is still wide enough to stop important information by people of malfeasant intention.

We would not be able to tell you about the internal troubles at the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) because our reporting is often based on documents that could be classified.

It’s an important story ­because, as we revealed last week, the labour disputes there reveal how the SIU and the Scorpions may have been used to fight political battles.

All the information is based on documents we need to tell the story.

We would not be able to tell you about the tenderpreneurship that besets ­Limpopo and other provinces because our work is often based on documents that could be classified to make their possession criminal.

Our Media24 Investigations team would be ­similarly hobbled.

Their dissection of WikiLeaks cables could, ostensibly, be declared classified. Likewise, their dissection of the mining rights ­database could be stymied if the documents were classified by overzealous bureaucrats who don’t want the public prying into who has access to the richest mining seams.

At other publications, you could be prevented from knowing the full details of how the state’s ­extensive property book (whether for rented or purchased property) is driving massive profiteering through political cronies.

The Sunday Times story that resulted in the Public Protector probing the lease of buildings for the police by the public works department may never have seen the light of day, since the information it was based on could ostensibly have been declared classified by dodgy civil servants.

There is lots more that you will not know if the Protection of Information Bill is passed by ­Parliament’s National Council of Provinces. This is because the committee has set its face against a public interest defence for possession.

It will ­impact not only on journalists, but on whistle-blowers, unionists and grassroots organisations.

Civil society (which includes us at City Press) will ask President Jacob Zuma to refer the draft law to the Constitutional Court once it is passed by Parliament but before he signs it into law.

While improvements have been made to the draft, ­without a public interest defence, it is an egregious law that will ensure the country never wins the battle against corruption and possibly not against poverty either.

We ask you to stand with us to ­protect your right to know.

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