Information bill may be narrowed

2010-11-16 16:38
Cape Town - MPs handling the contentious protection of information bill on Tuesday moved towards agreement that its ambit would be restricted to matters of national security and intelligence.

The initially vast scope of the bill was one of the thorny issues that created an outcry and prompted one opposition MP to say that it could be used to justify the classification of "a grocery list".

The ANC chairperson of the ad hoc committee drafting the bill, Cecil Burgess, asked members to study section 198 of the Constitution, which deals with national security and says it must be pursued in compliance with international law.

National interest removed

"I don't think there is any doubt now that what we are dealing with is a law with major implications for national security. It is actually focused on issues of national security, that is why the bill was changed and national interest was removed to draw the bill along the lines of national security."

"I would like the honourable members to consider that, because it is something that is going to go into the preamble of the bill."

Burgess later downplayed his statement as referring to the "small matter" of finding a definition for national security.

But it follows a submission by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele last month that dramatically narrows the ruling party's criteria of the kind of information that can be kept secret by the state.

In a second significant shift, Burgess suggested that any application to access information classified under the proposed legislation would be done following the process set out in the Protection of Access to Information Act of 2000 (PAIA).

This would go some way in solving the riddle of how to harmonise the bill with the PAIA, which is considered unique in the world in the access it allows citizens to information held both by the state and private bodies.

Opposition MPs welcomed Burgess's proposal, which came after two lengthy and inclusive presentations by state law advisors on reconciling the two pieces of legislation.

"It is an excellent idea that all access be channelled through PAIA because it ensures constitutionality and resolves the problem of whether PAIA prevails," Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts said.

She suggested that cross-referencing the two bills would also have the benefit of extending PAIA's public interest override to the Protection of Information Bill.

No protection for journalists

One of the biggest objections to the draft law has been the absence of protection for journalists publishing classified information in the public interest.

This lead to the widespread perception that the bill was a regressive attempt to cultivate greater state secrecy and curtail media freedom.

"One great benefit of channelling applications via PAIA is that the section 46 public interest override then applies and the information officer has to release where evidence of contravention of the law and public interest outweighs," Smuts said.

Opposition parties however asked for time to mull all the implications of the proposal.

"It is one of those epiphany moments that one captures and needs to go back to the office and see how it will work out in the opus," Mario Oriani Ambrosini from the Inkatha Freedom Party quipped.

The ANC has been adamant this far that there would be no special protection for journalists in the form of a public interest override and State law advisor Enver Daniels stressed on Tuesday that the one contained in PAIA "is a very limited override".

Lawmakers will continue their deliberations next week, but have acknowledged that they will not complete work on the bill this year.

Read more on:    siyabonga cwele  |  dene smuts  |  media

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


Five wrapping hacks you have to know before Christmas

Five gift wrapping hacks that will save Christmas for you!


I love summer.24

Sexiest Instagrams of 2014
Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!
Summer Survey!
Great ideas for the best summer sandwiches!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

Restaurant Manager

Western Cape
SET Recruitment Consultants
R20 000 - R30 000 Per Month

Accountant - Cape Town

Western Cape
Quantum Recruitment

Area Manager - Retail

Western Cape
Evolve Personnel
R20 000 - R25 000 Per Month

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go! - shop online today

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at While stocks last. Shop now!

30% off the bestselling books

Save big on the most captivating reads of 2014. While stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25


The energy today is serious, materialistic and hardworking. You may find you get a new outlook on things and you may want to more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.