Weather bill clause 'unconstitutional'

2012-01-24 22:30
Parliament - A clause in the draft SA Weather Service amendment bill is unconstitutional because it limits freedom of expression, Parliament's environmental affairs committee heard on Tuesday.

A citizen should be entitled to issue a legitimate warning of severe weather without permission from the weather service, the FW de Klerk Foundation said in a submission to public hearings by the committee.

It was a constitutional right to impart information and ideas, the foundation argued.

Television channels e.tv and e.sat TV said such a weather warning would constitute the exercise of academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

They agreed that the only limitation to freedom of expression was if something propagated war, incited violence or advocated hatred with incitement to cause harm.

Clause 30A of the bill prohibits the issue of severe weather warnings without permission and criminalises the supply of false or misleading information about the weather service, or an intentional or negligent act which negatively affects the organisation.

The clause was a bone of contention for many parties, who described it as vague.

FW de Klerk Foundation executive director Dave Steward said information was often "false and misleading" in the eye of the beholder and there could be legitimate differences of opinion on anything. He said information which negatively affected an organisation could positively affect the public, as in the case of incompetence and corruption.

In a submission by e.tv and e.sat TV, legal representatives Steven Budlender and Nick Ferreira said the terms "severe weather warning" and "issuing" were not clear.

"Does a warning of gale force winds qualify? Or does it have to be a warning of a hurricane?" they asked.

The Centre for Environmental Rights took issue with the permission process.

"There is no indication in the bill as to the specific circumstances in which the weather service's permission is required, nor how such permission should be sought," spokesperson Melissa Fourie said.

"Also, there is no indication of the time frame within which the weather service would have to indicate whether or not it will provide this permission. Presumably, these issues would be prescribed in regulations."

The Society of Master Mariners SA said the clause contradicted the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, a treaty to which it was contracted.

Captain Rob Whitehead said the treaty required the master of a ship to communicate information about dangerous weather conditions to ships in the vicinity and competent authorities. He requested that the clause be amended to include treaty conditions.

Public hearings resume on Wednesday.

Read more on:    legislation  |  weather
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