News24

Mixed response to info bill news

2012-05-11 12:48

Johannesburg - The ANC's proposed amendments to the protection of state information bill appeared to be a step in the right direction, but will be studied carefully, the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) said on Friday.

"It seems clear that members of the committee have decided that the legislation must reflect the fact that the vast majority of those who made submissions on the bill called for a public interest defence to be inserted, along with other important changes," Sanef chairperson Mondli Makhanya and the forum's media freedom chairperson Nic Dawes said in a statement.

"Among other changes, the committee has proposed an exemption from legal liability for the disclosure of classified information that reveals 'criminal activity'," they said.

"Sanef will study this and other proposed changes carefully, to determine whether what appears to be a step in the right direction goes far enough to satisfy our serious concerns about the potential negative consequences of the proposed legislation for freedom of information, freedom of speech, and the health of democracy."

Explicit exception

On Thursday, ANC members of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) ad hoc committee processing the bill proposed that section 43, which criminalises revealing classified information, make an explicit exception for cases where "such disclosure reveals criminal activity".

Under the proposal, this section would also enable those charged with disclosure to argue in their defence that the information was wrongly classified to begin with.

The ANC also moved to amend section 49 of the draft act, which has been widely criticised for criminalising the disclosure of information relating to any state security matter.

The proposed change would make it a crime only to reveal classified state information relating to security matters.

Not full public interest defence


The Right2Know (R2K) campaign said that despite encouraging signs, ruling party MPs made it clear on Thursday that they were not ready to deliver a full public interest defence.

In the latest formulation, they explain, those exposing state secrets would face fines or up to five years in prison, unless they were protected by South Africa’s existing (though inadequate) whistleblower protection laws, or unless the exposure revealed unlawful activities, or was made to fulfil responsibilities handed down by law.

R2K spokesperson Murray Hunter said this protection only applied to the offence in clause 43, and had not yet been made applicable to offences contained in clause 36, 38, and 49 -- offences which carry penalties of between five and 25 years, and currently have no public interest defence.

"In other words, this protection is an improvement, but is not meaningful until it is extended to all offences contained in the bill," said Hunter.

Espionage

He said in the ANC's proposed amendments, crimes of “espionage” and “hostile activities" are still sufficiently far-reaching that anyone who exposes information that could “directly or indirectly” benefit a foreign state faces severe prison sentences of up to 25 years.

"This still incriminates journalists and whistleblowers who are acting in the public interest, even if it may be intended to apply only to true acts of espionage. "

He said two improvements to these sections have been to remove prescribed minimum sentences, and to amend the offences so that one is only guilty of a crime if one “knew” their disclosure may benefit a foreign state.

Clauses 15 and 44, which make mere possession of classified information a crime, remain. And, the department of state security is still given complete protection in terms of clause 49.

Alf Lees, Democratic Alliance member for the NCOP, said the proposed amendments do provide some protection to journalists and whistleblowers, but still don't go far enough.

Battle not yet been won

He welcomed amendments which propose that journalists and whistleblowers be protected from prosecution if they reveal information which discloses criminal activity, and that minimum sentences be eliminated.

But the DA remained concerned about areas such as the definition of “national security”, and offences such as the possession and disclosure of classified information.

It regarded the committee’s decision on Thursday to extend its lifespan from May 17 to June 30 as a victory, following a formal request by DA leader in the NCOP, Elza van Lingen.

The African People's Convention (APC) welcomed the "bold move" taken in making the proposed amendments and was glad that issues of public interest had been looked into.

"We agree that media should be constantly monitored and regulated. However, declaring war against investigative journalism and whistle blowing will not help us realise our dream of a corruption-free South Africa," said APC spokesperson Patrick Sindane.

The Congress of the People (Cope) chief whip in the NCOP, Dennis Bloem, said: "This is a small but important victory. The attempt by government to muzzle the media and punish whistleblowers to conceal scandals and corruption has already been dealt a blow.

"The battle, however, has not yet been won."

Comments
  • Piet - 2012-05-11 13:03

    And the ANC still wants to hide their shady dealings behind this bill!

  • Fanie - 2012-05-11 13:17

    The problem with this Bill is, the moment it is in effect, they can make changes to protect own interest information. Just think of it, what would the public outcry be if just one short small amendment is made to this bill every 4 months, it will not even make the morning news. Who decides when is it criminal and when is it secret?

      Felix - 2012-05-11 13:33

      What exactly are they trying to keep secret? How to rob your citizens and designs for bulging jackets?

  • Thabang - 2012-05-11 13:21

    Petition- News24 to stop this "Game" advert that keeps popping on the screen thus making it look like we are on half news24 and half Game website.

      Piet - 2012-05-11 13:29

      Agreed, it stuffs around especially on a tablet!!!!

      Maltacular - 2012-05-11 14:11

      And the survey which is only in Afrikaans. Who says everybody can read/write Afrikaans

  • Arthur - 2012-05-11 13:24

    Just like the Etolls, scrap the entire thing.

  • Henry - 2012-05-11 13:28

    Politics's a dirty game. Our government (who's said to be democratic) could not pass a bill unilaterally, which the residents of the country do not approve. If it's a government that runs the country transparently, surely it had to listen to what people want. Take this contriversial bill, for example. It wouldn't go ahead forging (the secrecy) unless it had somethins to hide. This (so called changes) to that bill, I see it as a victory to the people. I wish that, they fight against it, tooth and nail, until completely scrapped.

  • Henry - 2012-05-11 13:28

    Politics's a dirty game. Our government (who's said to be democratic) could not pass a bill unilaterally, which the residents of the country do not approve. If it's a government that runs the country transparently, surely it had to listen to what people want. Take this contriversial bill, for example. It wouldn't go ahead forging (the secrecy) unless it had somethins to hide. This (so called changes) to that bill, I see it as a victory to the people. I wish that, they fight against it, tooth and nail, until completely scrapped.

  • Gert - 2012-05-11 13:40

    Scrap this nonsense , they want to tamper with the truth and this bill will give them that tool. They can use the normal law to control us and listen to Fanie.

  • Michael - 2012-05-11 14:33

    ANC is taking the country back to the dark ages of trading beads and mirrors...with only a privledged few...and to think the only other option is the ancyl who are more archaic in their thnking....wait thinking its giving them allready to much credit...their ways are digustingly and utterly pathetic....GOD never smiles on Africa in politics.

  • Phelamanga - 2012-05-11 16:13

    How about inserting a clause that punishes politicians who use their influence on foreign firms for projects of national importance, such as electricity, roads, harbours, railways, etc., because they have insider information gained through their political connections. This clause will force them to be transparent about what is being planned and will make them want to talk to the media. Thus withholding information from the public becomes a criminal offence, unless the information is about matter to to with the military in combat situations, or police in crime-busting, such as drug smuggling, poaching, gangsterism, etc.

  • Slick - 2012-05-11 21:29

    Hmm what a LAUGH!.. I Have already been SLAPPED with the Secrecy Clauses as contained in ALL the Food and Beverage Regulating Authorities legislation's in South Africa for a long time! FOR EXPOSING AND CONTINUE TO EXPOSE NOTHING BUT HEINOUS FRAUD, HEALTH ABUSES, CORRUPTION AND COLLUSION BETWEEN THE FOOD AND BEVERAGE INDUSTRY AND THE GOVERNMENT IN SOUTH AFRICA, THIS AGAINST AND WHICH HAS /IS AFFECTS/ED..AFFECTS/ED ALL CITIZENS ON A DAILY BASIS WHETHER ALIVE OR THOSE THAT ARE UNFORTUNATELY DECEASED!! This has been occurring and continues unabated in South Africa for more years than any of the citizens in South Africa could possibly even dream up or guess at! Note NOT by just the current Government / Regime. But a HUGE surprise awaits them ALL.I SHALL NOT BE SILENCED,THE PUBLIC WILL KNOW REAL SOON.TO SAY I WILL NEVER BE SILENCED WOULD BY SILLY BUT AT LEAST I WOULD HAVE BEEN "TAKEN OUT",KNOWING I ATTEMPTED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN CITIZENS LIVES IN MANY WAYS. THESE SAME DEPARTMENTS HAVE ACKNOWLEDGED AND VALIDATED ALL THE COMPLAINTS I HAVE PLACED ON THEM AS CORRECT. THE INDUSTRY HAS ADMITTED GUILT IN MOST IF NOT ALL INSTANCES! HOW DO THEY DARE DO THIS TO US ALL? SO TO THE GOVERNMENT OF THE DAY AND ALL YOU COLLUDE WITH.TAKE YOUR INFORMATION BILL AND SECRECY BILLS AND LAWS AND SHOVE IT WHERE THE SUN DON'T SHINE. YOU ARE ALL NOTHING MORE THAN CORRUPT,HEINOUS, FRAUDULENT, IMMORAL AND UNETHICAL EVIL BIGOTS!! THAT WILL BE EXPOSED AND THE TIME HAS TICKED UP FOR THEM ALL.

  • micheal.moolman - 2012-05-12 12:05

    It's encouraging that the government is making 'some' concessions to the info. bill. However, the phrase 'hostile activities' is to broad a term to be included anywhere and really has no place in bill as dangerous as this.

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