Info bill: Stop, rewind, experts say

2011-06-17 22:14

Cape Town - The protection of information bill could be improved by lawmakers returning, in part, to the 2008 version of the draft law, two Wits law professors argued in a discussion paper released on Friday.

The earlier draft was better in that it did not make the mere act of disclosing classified information a prisonable offence, Professors Iain Currie and Jonathan Klaaren said.

Instead, the 2008 version sought to punish disclosure where it could cause serious harm to the country.

Incorporating this harm test would allow those accused of revealing state secrets to argue that they had done so in the public interest - thereby providing a defence for journalists and whistle-blowers charged with contravening the law.

"The use of this substantive drafting would allow persons to argue and attempt to demonstrate that they have in fact acted in a manner that protected rather than harmed the security of the state."

The two suggested this could represent a compromise out of the current impasse between the government, which has rejected calls for a so-called public interest defence, and opposition parties and activists pleading for its inclusion.

"It appears to us that one could easily argue that a return to the substantive drafting style of the 2008 bill would have much the same benefits as the express inclusion of a public interest defence, without risking some of the dangers of misuse of an explicit public interest defence."

They said the term "public interest" suffered to some extent from the same ambiguity as that of "national interest", which was removed from the bill following vehement objection that it was so vague that it could be used to justify classification of almost anything.

The bill has provoked more public debate than any other legislation drafted in the post-apartheid era since it was re-introduced in 2010, at what Currie and Klaaren term "a low point" in relations between the state and the press.

Critics say it would serve as a deterrent to investigative reporting and whistle-blowing, and the wide scope it allows for classification by all organs of state could be abused to keep citizens in the dark about the government's decisions.

The campaign to have the bill revised was strengthened last month when Cosatu warned it would launch a Constitutional Court challenge if the ANC drove the measure through Parliament without substantial amendments.

In a scathing analysis of the bill, the ruling party ally said it was untenable that workers could be imprisoned for being in possession of evidence of corruption, or passing it on to union representatives.

The penalties in the bill range from a minimum three-year prison sentence for possessing classified information, to 25 years in jail for revealing state secrets.

Currie and Klaaren's paper is a revision of a document they tabled earlier this month at talks between government officials and civil society groups on the bill, organised by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The foundation said there would be a follow-up meeting including the South African National Editors' Forum next week.

  • Vela Stardust - 2011-06-17 22:51

    Would investigations into the 'arm deal' be classified? The current government would not see the re-opening of the 'arms deal' investigation in the public or national interest. The chances are that top ANC official, both past and present are likely to be exposed for accepting bribes. Hence the need to implement the bill.

      GT - 2011-06-17 23:45

      Tip of the iceberg....

      Frungy - 2011-06-18 04:48

      For goodness sakes they tried to classify a report on the water quality because the results were bad. I mean if ANYTHING is in the public's interests it's the quality of the water they're drinking, but the ANC saw no problem in trying to classify it because it might "cause panic". ... and that was even before this new legislation. The problem here is not the legislation per se, but rather the type of people in charge, who have a contempt for the people who have elected them that is quite staggering!

      alicia - 2011-06-18 09:38

      RE OPEN THE ARMS DEAL CASE, AND DEAL WITH THE CANS OF WORMS WITHIN IT. Without utmost honesty this country cannot move forward. We all know that the Government, right from the very top have been lying to us and stealing from us for years. They live in spleandour off their illgotten gains. We pay taxes, have less and less to eat. Their own people die of hunger, but the lies just keep on flowing and are covered up. IT WILL BLOW UP IN YOUR FACES SOON. Lie upon lie upon lie upon lie...somewhere a small thread will break, and BOOM! their will be a massive explosion. Such is the secrecy surrounding super-injunctions that the public simply cannot make a judgement about whether justice is being done. Media organisations are forbidden from reporting not only the details of the case, but the reasons why an individual judge has reached a decision. Justice needs to be open if it is to command public respect. It is hard to see how super-injunctions can be compatible with a transparent legal system.

  • Boer - 2011-06-18 01:29

    Whos going to invest in South-Africa with this mess on hand.?

      Frungy - 2011-06-18 04:49

      Sorry, that's classified. ;)

      Ian - 2011-06-18 06:43

      100% i know i wouldnt

  • Grayman - 2011-06-18 05:34

    Stuff the 'Rewind' bit. Just STOP the info bill altogether.

      BigMoose - 2011-06-18 09:55

      And press DELETE.

  • Boer - 2011-06-18 06:24

    Who is ever gonna invest in South Africa? Hope they do the right thing.

      Ixian - 2011-06-18 07:22

      Umm, Walmart?

  • Ian - 2011-06-18 06:41

    listen made, the info bill means one thing and one thing only, the stupid anc government will carry on with there theft and corruption and the media will not be allowed to report it, already with the times live 'new' website we cant comment on the majority of articles anymore, another good one is the fat jelly tot says he represents the poor but hear wears a R50.000 watch, lives in sandton and wears imported suits and drinks johnny walker blue so dont bulldust me, you are all common criminals

      derek - 2011-06-18 07:20

      R250 000 watch

  • Ian - 2011-06-18 06:48

    2 ELECK respect is a 2 way street, when your malema starts respecting minority groups and not call us racist and derogatory names, I might reconsider it, until then, sorry, I will look down on trash

      Grayman - 2011-06-18 07:30

      @Ian; Eleck is a troll. A bad troll, but a troll none the less. It isn't worth the reaction to him/her/it.

      Sizwe - 2011-06-18 09:05

      @Grayman. But is has revealed Ian's true colours has it not...

  • mal.emmer - 2011-06-18 07:31

    Will just publish on the WWWeb like in North Africa and China. The CORRUPT ones can try to stop it but they can't. The CORRUPT ones also cannot stop satelite radio or Amazon.

  • onetickie - 2011-06-18 07:54

    Every intelligent person in this country knows that the government's push for this Info Bill is to allow it to continue with its corruption, nepotism with impunity. SA is a broken country. Provinces are are already in total collapse; service delivery in every aspect of society has collapsed: hospitals, schools, roads, agriculture, commerce. There is nothing left to break. The info bill is government's name to try and stop the people from being told that whats left of the country is being siphoned into pockets.

      pugwash - 2011-06-18 08:26

      so sad but so true :(

  • sainsaudi - 2011-06-18 08:36

    What the public needs to be protected from is the knowledge that they have voted in people who will eventually, and not too far in the future, destroy the fabric of that public, while they live ensconced in their luxury villas on their farms and estates protected by armed guards where they will not be able to see the poverty around them.Yes, the ANC is for the poor, because the poor and hungry will be to busy trying to make a living, and they will be too weak to be able to stand up to the party machine that runs the country. It is in the interest of the public to keep them uninformed and poor and it suits the agenda of the ANC that they remain so. Now if the ANC started to work on plans to create a large middle class that is educated, skilled and well-informed, there would be no need to have an Info Bill that is so wide in its interpretation, because that public would not need protection, and there would be no threats against the country, and government officials would toe the line and be productive members of society, and not the bloodsucking leeches that we have today.

  • fracham - 2011-06-18 08:49

    The Govt gives the impression of 1 st world aspirations - democracy etc. When in fact the opposite is happening . Its entrenching its power.They know it and some of us now it. The future does no look good if this bill goes thru. This is a joke if it were not so serious. It smacks of Stalinism,Idi Aminism, Mugabism,Gaddafiism, Hitlerism and every other government that has a bad human rights track record . SA is being led to the slaughter fields . The process is gathering momemtum. For confirmation , speak to the numerous Zimbabweans who have entered our society. The guys are not here on holiday! But being here is like a holiday for those fortunate to find work . Something Malema seems to coveniently have overlooked or has not put together. And where do Africans go with hope . Europe,USA who can only cope with so much. The rumblings have started there. So where will this all lead to ............ what a mess !

  • realist03 - 2011-06-18 08:49

    Whos gona invest?? Ill tell you whos gona invest in SA,the chinese will,zuma is always there wheeling an dealing our minerals away,once he has filled his pockets he will let malema step up and enrich himself,oh and dont worry about the secrecy bill,thats just there to suppress the folk that voted them into power,,,,,,,,,,we still have twitter,facebook and wilkileaks

      observation - 2011-06-18 12:19

      lets play my favourite game, it's called ' how many times can the readers or news24 slip in a reference to Malema for no apparent reason, as a thinly veiled racism' lets be clear i;m not saying Malema is anything but a racist opportunist. but 90% of the time he's mentioned in this sites comments section he's just a way of saying " these people can't run the country'

  • realist03 - 2011-06-18 08:51

    OH AND HEY DONT WORRY Fact,,,malema will take over,its inevitable,,the cp and other factions will revolt against malema,he will crush them and beat them into submission,,in the mean time malemas henchman will be evicting all whites from farms,,this is when all whites and any race,who want true democracy and freedom will have to move to the western cape,as they want to drive us to the sea where we came from,its been their policy since the 70s,,except thats where we will take our final stand and make the cape independent,,the international community will make sure this happens to avoid mass refugees flooding to holland and the UK,so what can i say ,arm yourselves and start moving south people,,the clock is ticking faster than imagined.good luck and be safe

  • Epicurius - 2011-06-18 09:02

    Zapiro was too kind to them with his cartoon. As I said in another discussion, this is less of a once off 'rape' of free speech than it is a Josef & Elizabeth Fritzl scenario. The intention is not to 'rape' free speech once, but rather to keep it captive where it cannot see the light of day and to violate it whenever the urge arises.

  • Ian - 2011-06-18 09:15

    @sizwe my true colors have nver been hidden but my point is until your 'youth' leader starts showing some respecty both to other race groups as well as his elders he will get fk all from me, trash like him does not worry us (smith, wesson and me)

  • J T - 2011-06-18 09:59

    Audi alteram partem?

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