Activists hatch plan against secrecy bill

2011-11-30 13:05

A seven-point campaign of resistance against the Protection of State Information Bill was hatched between editors, Cosatu and the Right2Know Campaign today.

Participation in the campaign against the bill was for “everyone who wants a transparent and democratic society”, said Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

The bill, passed in the National Assembly last Tuesday, still has to be approved by the National Council of Provinces.

Cosatu, the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) and the Right2Know Campaign met in Johannesburg earlier in the day to discuss the bill.

They told reporters the resistance campaign would tackle the legislation on seven fronts:
1. Educating the public about the bill and the problems it posed for democracy;

2. Public awareness;

3. A march of those opposed to the bill to hand their grievances to President Jacob Zuma;

4. A convention;

5. Activism;

6. A possible petition against the bill; and

7. Co-operation and sharing information and resources on legal recourse.

Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes said the bill was an affront to democracy and the public.

While the preamble of the bill indicated “noble motivation”, it had been drafted in such a way as to limit future embarrassment, which had previously arisen in corruption scandals, for example.

Dawes said: “The good intentions (in the preamble, were) seriously damaged by a different set of motivations from security agencies.”

Dawes and Vavi said the absence of a public interest defence clause in the bill had been the focus of opposition.

It was easier to articulate and explain than other objections to it.

The essential problem with the legislation was that it could “sludge up the whole flow of information”, which meant that the accountability of government could not be guaranteed, Dawes said.

Vavi said proponents of the bill had claimed that its development was in line with the values of the Freedom Charter of 1955.

Withholding information that was in the public interest, however, was anathema to the “spirit and letter” of the charter and the Constitution.

Citing these documents, he said: “The law shall guarantee to all their right to speak, to organise, to meet together, to publish ... This includes freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and the freedom to impart information and ideas.

“(Therefore, the argument that) the info bill is derived from the Freedom Charter is just not true.”

While certain state security information should rightly be classified, this needed to be properly defined to ensure that the objectives of transparent and accountable governance were not compromised, Vavi said.

Sanef chairman Mondli Makhanya said there were many within the ANC who had voted “against their conscience” when they voted in favour of the bill.

“We need to press the pause button and talk about this and what it will mean for future generations.”

There was a mistaken perception that the legislation was only about the media. Rather, the legislation threatened the general public, particularly the poor.

“What we want to say to the ANC and government is that they cannot be on the wrong side of the Constitution, the Freedom Charter and public opinion,” Makhanya said.

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