News24

What the info bill will mean for reporting

2011-11-22 08:00

Cape Town - Anything from a fine to 25 years in prison will be the fate awaiting anyone who possesses or discloses classified state information.

Journalists or whistleblowers will no longer be able to argue in court that they disclosed secret state information because it was in the public interest, because the controversial protection of state information bill excludes a public interest defence.

In terms of the bill it will, therefore, be illegal to make secret state information public, even if it exposes serious corruption or crime.

Because of these heavy penalties and the exclusion of a public interest defence, various civil rights organisations, interest groups, opposition parties and Cosatu have threatened to fight the proposed act in the Constitutional Court.

Declassifying information

In its present form, the bill stipulates that the only way in which a newspaper could obtain and publish classified state information legally, is to request the relevant governmental head first to declassify the information. In the case of a state department, this would be the director-general, in a municipality it will be the municipal manager, in a public enterprise the CEO, and in the case of a national key point the owner.

Should the application be refused, the newspaper could lodge an appeal with the relevant minister whose department classified the information. If the appeal failed, a court application could be brought to obtain the information legally.

The bill does make it possible to go directly to court if the classified state information will expose a “serious crime”, a public security threat, or environmental risk.

ANC MP Cecil Burgess, chairperson of the ad hoc committee dealing with the bill, says the scope of the bill has been considerably curtailed because it authorises only the department of state security, the police and the defence force to classify information. But trade union Cosatu believes the power to classify is still “excessive” as any other state department or enterprise may obtain permission from the state security minister to keep information secret.

Whistleblowers will be criminals

The bill also criminalises the possession of secret state information and requires such information to be immediately handed over to the police or the department of state security. A newspaper with any secret information would first need to hand it to the government and would be able to publish it only if the information has been declassified.

Anyone who assists, encourages, orders or advises anyone else to obtain classified state information will also be prosecuted.

Cosatu and municipal trade union Samwu say the bill will make criminals of whistleblowers in government departments.

Should the bill become law, reams of municipal documents can be classified as “secret” and officials’ abuse of power can be covered up.
 

Comments
  • Shawn - 2011-11-22 08:12

    Step one to dictatorship, censor the media and cover up your own corrupt actions. Step two - mass genocide.

      Fox - 2011-11-22 08:20

      Agreed... the signs are there Shawn. If this bill is passed today, I think it's officialy time to start worrying.

      Dickson - 2011-11-22 09:03

      Then we can be known as Southern Zimbabwe. Viva ANC! For the ANC supporters I'm being sarcastic.

  • StarStruck - 2011-11-22 08:18

    Their culture is being attacked so this bill will pass. Good news for the ANC but bad news for everone else. What a shame.

      Jack - 2011-11-22 09:26

      Alas will be becoming jsut another failed Black African state. We need to stand together, Boycott our Taxes, Simply do not Pay Taxes!!!! Hit them where it hurts, their fat cars, big houses, and Italian clothes. These people are a scourge that needs to be eradicated from South Africa.

  • nicholasapsmith - 2011-11-22 08:21

    you get what you voted for, that is just fact. Like it or not we heading down a road not to far from what the Nazis and the Communists did. Either suck it up, march and protest. Little time is left to change the way South Africa heads toward a total Police State.

      Frans - 2011-11-22 17:07

      I disagree, if one didn't vote anc one definitely does not get what one voted for...

  • Fox - 2011-11-22 08:26

    Shawn, just to add a prelude to your story. Step one... Get rid of the scorpions who were investigating the corruption and replace them with a body who you can control and settle your political scores for you....

  • Dawie Adri Viljoen - 2011-11-22 08:27

    Thank you Lord Jesus for your protection

  • Ian - 2011-11-22 08:31

    This is exactly how Nazi Germany started................................

  • Stanley - 2011-11-22 08:37

    Is there a possibility for anyone with legit info on the govt corruption and also their cronies' to publish / forward / send it to the word press / wiki's before the bill is passed? Groot asseblief! We freedom-loving, truth-declaring, taxed-to-debt legit citizens of South Africa need these info and also a tax break!

      tilesesb - 2011-11-22 16:07

      Taxed-to-debt should have read "Taxed-to-death",spot on Stan

  • Fazila - 2011-11-22 08:42

    A slow and erosive mission has been happening under our noses. One dirty deed follows another and before we know it we are in the Warsaw ghetto and need permission to pee.

  • Sarah-Jane - 2011-11-22 09:02

    Let's not kid ourselves that the government give a shnizzle. We're being lead by a bunch of self serving balookas, for the most part. This aside, we do have a voice; let's use it.

  • Michelle - 2011-11-22 09:05

    So...we are back to 1994....Hallo Zim Africa...

  • pjsawers - 2011-11-22 10:04

    Murder is only 25 years since when did publishing information carry the same sentence! Let's rather inflict this kinds of sentences on the rapists, murderers and embezzelers - oh no we can't do that then we would have no government!

  • Dickson - 2011-11-22 10:05

    Didn't apartheid already show that these methods don't work? When a black government oppresses people is it also called apartheid? The government works for the people of South Africa and we pay their salaries then we should have full access to everything they do.

      Fazila - 2011-11-22 10:44

      Wow Dickson, why didn't I think of that. You are so right, we do pay their salaries, so in effect we are their bosses. I demand job descriptions and disciplinary actions for all the ministers who vote "yes " to this ludicrous bill.

  • Bianca - 2011-11-22 12:32

    Does 'Animal Farm' ring a bell?????

      miss.pandalemming - 2011-11-22 14:41

      "All south africans are equal, but some are more equal than others."

  • kaybabe - 2011-11-22 14:13

    im officilly looking for a 70 yr old australian or american man to marry me.....SA is becoming the next zim

  • Msholozi - 2011-11-22 14:44

    media freedom was abused by the media

      Dawid - 2011-11-22 14:52

      I see you're saying "I want economic freedom" on your FB page! Go work for your money and set yourself free! The Government gave us freedom of speech & freedom of the media and now they are taking it away! Is that what your so called "Freedom" fight were about? For just once in your life,be honest with yourself and all other people!

      Benjamin - 2011-11-22 15:44

      You'll have to excuse me I'm a New Zealander reading about this via Wikileaks but I could see this happening in the US, New Zealand or any other country and what you seem to be saying is "We'll give you freedom of speech so long as you don't actually decide to use it."

      tilesesb - 2011-11-22 16:11

      Cummon man,you got to be kiddin me.........

  • glen.e.huysamer - 2011-11-22 16:04

    Please editors and news papers can you please publish all the names of the public officials that voted for the bill to be passed so that I and other citizens can start boycotting these people in their personal capacity.

  • Sue - 2011-11-22 16:43

    How to cover up state coruption - hello Zim the second

  • colin.david.sa - 2011-11-22 20:02

    God will surely punish us all if we stand by and let these corrupt official pass such dishonesty as law. We need to stand together and fight this every way possable!

  • Alva - 2011-11-22 23:30

    Hell no! After all that rig-ma-roll the crime is already covered. besides, what if the head of department is the criminal? This bill has to be taken to the constitutional court! If it was not for our press.........?????

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