News24

ANC rejects public interest defence

2011-08-31 20:01

Cape Town - The ANC definitively ruled out writing a public interest defence into the Protection of Information Bill on Wednesday on the basis that it would place journalists above the law.

ANC MP Luwellyn Landers rejected all argument that allowing somebody who revealed a state secret to argue in court that he had done so for the public good would protect whistleblowers, promote transparency and fight corruption.

Instead, he said, the proposal plainly sought to protect the media from being sent to prison for publishing classified information.

"Let's be honest, essentially what the opposition is saying is that journalists who come into possession of classified information should be allowed to publish it."

He said the bill did not place an "unjustifiable constraint on media freedom or freedom of expression" by forcing journalists to hand secret files to the police, then request the minister to declassify them if they felt the information belonged in the public domain.

"It merely makes the media subject to the rule of law."

A heated debate ensued, in which fellow ANC members likened a Democratic Alliance proposal to protect publication if the information was classified to conceal wrongdoing, to legalising theft.

DA MP Dene Smuts retorted: "We are talking about stealing. Theft and corruption is a big problem in our country and it is the duty of any democrat to expose it."

She said that a public interest defence did not amount to legalising the exposure of legitimate sate secrets.

"It is just a defence. If they get it wrong they still go to jail."

Debate exhausted

The Inkatha Freedom Party's Mario Oriani-Ambrosini urged the ANC to allow the defence and to trust the country's judges to decide whether it applied.

"A judge is competent to weigh whether the public interest is better served through disclosure or through secrecy."

The chairperson of the committee drafting the bill, Cecil Burgess, deemed the opposition argument "lop-sided" and said he believed that debate on the subject was exhausted.

This signals that the ruling party will use its majority muscle to outvote the opposition on the matter when it finalises the bill this week.

Civil society groups have said the exclusion of a public interest defence renders the bill unconstitutional and ripe for legal challenge.

Along with the Congress of SA Trade Unions, they reject the ANC's contention that as the bill stands it offers sufficient protection for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing covered up by classification.

The committee is expected to return to the matter of whistleblowers in the remaining two days of deliberations.

The director of the Open Democracy Advice Cente (Odac), Alison Tilley, held out some hope for increased safeguards in this regard.

"I'm hopeful that there can still be a turn around on this subject."

Activists have welcomed a range of concessions by the ruling party in recent weeks which have restricted the scope of the bill, and state officials' powers to classify information.

There was one further concession on Wednesday. The ANC agreed to a proposal by Oriani Ambrosini to rewrite a contentious clause that would have prohibited the publication of any "state security matter".

This had been seen as giving intelligence agents near unfettered powers to keep information secret.

The redraft prohibits the publication of only classified information relating to the work of state security agents, but increases the maximum penalty for this crime to 10 years in prison.

"It has been turned into a 'don't mess with the agency clause' but at least the scope of what can be classified has not been widened," said Oriani Ambrosini.

Odac welcomed the change.

Smuts said: "It removes a certain grounds for unconstitutionality."

Comments
  • THE.SRG - 2011-08-31 20:04

    F#ck off ANC...i will no longer listen to anything you say,you are all cowards and i have lost the last bit of hope i had in you!

      thefeather - 2011-08-31 20:12

      Couldn't agree more with your sentiment mate. Today is a very sad and dark day in this country.

      grod - 2011-08-31 20:47

      Only solution is to leak this type of info to social networking? They cant block that!

      steve - 2011-08-31 20:53

      Unless they try ban the internet.

      TheMagician - 2011-08-31 21:17

      he is spot on.... how can you have journalista above the law... what the hell do you think this is??? i support the governments initiatives on this one and they have my support 100% government must step up now and show its might and conquer all threats finished and klaar.....

      Spyker May - 2011-08-31 21:21

      Is it not convenient that all of this is happening at EXACTLY the same time as everybody's attention is on Luthuli House..?

      Denise - 2011-08-31 21:59

      We need to trek back to the Cape and secede from South Africa. Resolution 235 in Chapter 14 of the South African Constitution states clearly: “The right of the South African people as a whole to self-determination, as manifested in this Constitution, does not preclude, within the framework of this right, recognition of the notion of the right of self-determination of any community sharing a common cultural and language heritage, within a territorial entity in the Republic or in any other way, determined by national legislation.” Why have Whites not exercised this right yet? A constitution is a set of laws applying specifically to the government. These laws are what the citizens impose on the government, not the other way around. It tells the government what the rights and freedoms of the citizens are and how the government should protect those rights. That is the ONLY mandate they have - to protect the rights of the citizens. They work for us. They are 100% employed by us and their salaries are 100% paid by us, the citizens of SA. It is nonsense that the ANC government thinks that it is above the law. What the ANC has been doing ever since they came to power is to undermine our constitutional rights around every corner and at every opportunity. The right to own property, the right to freedom of speech, the right to life (withholding AIDS treatment from its citizens), even the right to self determination…have all been undermined by the ANC.

      maseratifitt - 2011-08-31 23:22

      The Magician : Threats like... media freedom?

      Megan - 2011-09-01 07:32

      @The Magician. Then what exactly makes the ANC any different to the National Party? Also, you obviously aren't a taxpayer contributing to the economy of this country, because if you were, then you would definitely be more supportive of a free and fair media. The ANC are desperate to stop the media from reporting on the amount of MY and other taxpayers money they use to improve their own lives instead of the lives of the poorest people. What most people don't seem to understand is this: THe government is EMPLOYED by the people of South Africa, therefore, the people of South Africa deserve transpancy and actually hold the right to know what is going on. By all means, don't publish top secret military information but when millions of people are still without the houses, water and electricity they were promised, those people have the right to know why. And the answer to WHY is because the ANC are too corrupt to even THINK about the poor, and now they are wasting even more of our hard earned tax to pass stupid laws that will benefit ONLY them and not the entire country.

  • rustic - 2011-08-31 20:09

    So, I get prosecuted for "stealing" evidence of wrondoing, whose author has had it "classified" to cover his tracks. Ha ha.

  • crackerr - 2011-08-31 20:27

    Place journalists above what law? The law that the ANC determines? And the place of journalists in the hierarchy of the law? Maybe there is somebody reading the above news item that can articulate the situation so that we all can understand it. What the ANC is saying is the following. This is the law. If we make exceptions it will place the certain persons or classes of persons above the law. Let's try to take the argument of the ANC to the next step. The law says what goes. If it is a secret in terms of the law it is a secret. Trying to work it out. In other words, that's it. It is a secret. Now where on earth does the argument about journalists fit in? As said, maybe others can explain how the ANC is guilty of BS better and more understandable than the effort put into this comment.

      grod - 2011-08-31 21:38

      Journos are much better than the Hawks thats why they want to gag them

  • Wishbone - 2011-08-31 20:28

    So this is how democracy dies!

  • Martin - 2011-08-31 20:37

    Nothing shocks me anymore with these gangsters. We are doomed. Its a shame that parasites are destroying a beautiful country. Time to leave !!

      dj-h - 2011-08-31 20:46

      I moved already... & i am black!!!

      Sit-hole - 2011-08-31 20:55

      I would if I had the funds. Will be working towards this goal though.

      IRISH8 - 2011-08-31 21:41

      I, too, left what was a lovely country but is now becoming like all the other African countries a democracy African style!!! Cry the beloved country

  • steve - 2011-08-31 20:52

    The Malema fiasco is a cover up of public interest in this story.

  • letsee - 2011-08-31 21:04

    The ANC is moving towards a NP style of government control. This will ensure that they will remin in power on the day they lose the majority, which is happening really fast.

  • burtfred - 2011-08-31 21:14

    Who the F**k is this Landers douchbag? He is trying to make his fame and fortune at the expense of the freedom of speech and constitutional rights of the people of our country. When the real revolution comes, he will find himself in the same category as Gadaffi's sons. Not very popular. Landers, why don't you just back off and go fishing at beach next Mitchells Plain - it could save your life. You and your appalling party don't own our country. We, the voters and taxpayers do.

      rustic - 2011-08-31 21:23

      He's a politician burtfred - I wouldn't even consider having one as a pet.

  • crackerr - 2011-08-31 21:25

    What does the following statement on behalf of the ANC really mean: "It merely makes the media subject to the rule of law." The ANC statement means no more than the rule of law as determined by the ANC. Nogal the RULE OF LAW. Anybody looking for extreme examples of empty or misleading human expressions need look no further. The opposition parties have apparently decided that they must compromise. Create the impression of so-called reasonableness. They must wake up and oppose the whole proposed bill. It is a lie that the state needs secrecy. A HUGE lie. But people are so conditioned that they fall for the lie. It is nonsense that every country needs some secrecy. Rubbish. Those in need of secrecy are not the populace but the politicians and the inefficient officials. If secrecy is really required - for example to cover up assistance with our country's resources of some despot - it should not be kept secret for more than a few months. To hell with the despot! Why must he and his South African helpers benefit out of laws that make the rest of us deaf and blind?

  • Dave - 2011-08-31 21:50

    This is really a catch22 situation created by the ANC for their benefit and nobody elses, especially not even public they serve. By creating a law which protects information which the public has a right to know, the situation is further compounded by another law preventing access to it by the public representatives as media. Can the emperor not see his own clothes? We the public have the right to know the information created and funded by us through government via taxation. Any negotiation on this right is simply non-negotiable. This kind of information manipulation and protection is what results in scandals and corruption behind the curtain of politics. It is time for the ANC to wake up and realise that the public they serve are not going to allow such blatant violations against them by their electorate. If they do not, there will be enormous embarrasment as they become the targets of whistleblowers from both inside and outside their organisation. These are so called laws which are prohibitive, restrictive and deliberately limiting to progress in our society and should not be tolerated by our lawmakers. Those who enact, support and enforce such laws are surely guilty of treason against the public.

  • Mandla - 2011-08-31 22:04

    The media is not above the law.if they over step their authority they should be punished.Media freedom is the best the country have have but one way or the other they need to be regulated to such an extent that they opperate within the laws of the country.We can not have a situation whereby the media will create its own governmant,formulate its own constitution,its own laws which they feel they can opperate under.We can not have a situation wherby the media uses its papers to crucify those who are against or who are not within their thinking and wants.We will be happy if the media is not used by big business to attack the governmant for the bennefit of the private sector which the governmant is at loggerheads with on certain issues.

      Southern - 2011-08-31 22:13

      A free press means that you can open up a newspaper and write what you want. To stay in business you need to sell those newspapers though. If you write crap you will get bankrupt. How is New Age doing?

      crackerr - 2011-08-31 23:26

      @ Mandla We should get away from the concept of media / press / journalistic rights or freedoms. It is about the availability, access to, and free flow of information and opinions, whether your involvement or interest is that of the ordinary run-of-the-mill citizen or some media person. It is not about certain classes of people like journalists and their imagined privileged position before the law. The opposition parties in Parliament seem to misconstrue the situation, with the result that we will all pay the penalty. Nobody is above the law. The issue is not the hierarchy of liability before the law. If only the parliamentarians were not politicians. Being politicians they are not qualified to protect our freedoms and democracy.

      explorer7 - 2011-09-02 08:47

      Mandla, Eish........get your head out of your A$$. What this really means is that the ANC can do what ever they like and the journalists will be powerless to blow the whistle on them. Oh dear oh dear!!! freedom of speech as long as it does not contain any derogatory statements or uncomfortable truths about the thieves

  • Southern - 2011-08-31 22:06

    As the Government is so concerned about it's secrets: Can they give us some examples where in the last 10 years the press has published secrets that are not in the public interest? I have not read anything in a SA newspaper that I found state threatening. Unless they can give some examples, it must be to cover something up. The press is full of things that are not positive about government. But as they have access to the internet they can see that it is everywhere in the (first) world the same. Governments are elected to serve the people, if the people think they do not as promised they get criticized and questioned.

  • rory - 2011-08-31 22:20

    There is a wide spectrum of ANC behaviour which indicates to me that it does not trust the citizens of this country. Crazy is it not, not to trust the very people who acceded to you having the power to govern them, but that is the case. The contentious contents of the proposed Protection of Information Bill are a good example of this lack of trust.

      maseratifitt - 2011-08-31 23:15

      I agree with you, rory. But who is to trust who? What has the ANC done over 17 years to make us trust them? They blatantly lie, steal, create their own billionaires and "royalty" at the cost of South African citizens. The ANC is acting only in its own interest. Not in the interests of S.A. This makes them an enemy of S.A. Strange, isn't it? A country governed by the enemy. Brought about by "democracy". The ANC never liberated us. They merely moved us from separate jails to a communal jail. And they just keep on reinforcing those walls and bars.

      crackerr - 2011-08-31 23:38

      Politicians have the vulgar habit to expect us to trust them but they do not trust us. Or perhaps they do. They perhaps realize that we might act unfavorably for them if we find out the truth. We the ordinary people don't seem to have too much to hide, and if the state with the backing of the politicians want to know about our little secrets, they can easily do so. But have mercy on us if want to know what the secrets of the politicians are. Seems unfair.

  • SlayerSaves - 2011-09-01 03:33

    fortunately we have the internet - they can't regulate that, not even if they tried

      P-JB - 2011-09-01 09:34

      If you recall, Malema recently said that he would hace facebook closed down. What an idiot......

  • P-JB - 2011-09-01 09:31

    The ANC is only doing this because they have something to hide. What happened to TRANSPARENCY?

  • Charl van Deventer - 2011-09-01 10:44

    So... Legal whistleblowing will be illegal. So why not move to illegal? Wikileaks has been doing well so far. How long till we get the SA version with a proper anonymous submission system? Anonymity of authors of editorials as well as sources, something that cannot be regulated or controlled by state, and any attempt to do so will only give the information publicity and legitimacy. The truth will find a way.

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