Sanef lone media voice at info bill hearings

2012-03-14 22:37
Cape Town - Eighteen critics will be invited to address hearings on the protection of state information bill later this month, but only one media body will be heard, ANC MPs ruled on Tuesday.

The SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) is the only body that will be allowed to speak on behalf of the fourth estate, said Raseriti Tau, the chairperson of the ad hoc committee processing the bill in the National Council of Provinces.

Tau said he did not want the process, likely to be the last hearings on the contentious "secrecy" bill, to be dominated by the media.

"I would not want us to be preoccupied with the media and lose sight of what this bill is about," he told the committee.

"Their submission is territorial, sectoral. They are protecting their territory."

It was on this basis that Tau rejected opposition proposals to invite media academic Jane Duncan from Rhodes University, who authored one of the 259 written submissions to the committee on the bill.

Duncan's submission was made on behalf of Highway Africa, which is part of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes.

In her often blistering critique, she proposed 35 changes to the bill. These included narrowing the definition of national security as a basis for classifying information, limiting the maximum period for classification to 10 years, and obliging classifying officers to give reasons for filing information as secret.

Duncan argued that South Africa was suffering from a culture of excessive classification and secrecy surrounding the intelligence services.

"There is a constitutionally indefensible blackout on the intelligence services. This blackout is dangerous as it creates space for abuse of this most sensitive area of government."

For many opponents of the bill, this concern has been exacerbated by clause 49 of the bill, which imposes jail sentences of up to 15 years for people who disclose information about the work of the intelligence services.

The point is also likely to be made by the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), which warned in its submission that the draft law would contribute to the creation of a "security state".

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told Sapa he would personally argue the labour movement's case in the public hearings.

"I think I will have to go there and do that," he said.

The committee has scheduled the hearings to run over three-and-a-half days, from March 27 to 30.

Tau said he would limit presentations to an hour, half of which would be taken up by questions.

Those who would be invited include human rights lawyer George Bizos, the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Helen Suzman Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the public protector, the Open Democracy Advice Centre, Right 2 Know Campaign, the SA Human Rights Commission and the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.

All are expected to demand that the bill be redrafted, and many to argue that it is patently unconstitutional.

The raft of submissions include only one in support of the bill and that was submitted anonymously.

The bill was driven through the National Assembly by the ANC majority late last year amid warnings it would erode freedom of expression and threats of a legal challenge, should it be adopted in its current form.

Read more on:    cosatu  |  sahrc  |  sajbd  |  george bizos  |  zwelinzima vavi  |  media  |  info bill

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