Chris Moerdyk

Guptagate and protection of State information

2013-05-06 08:05

Chris Moerdyk

Let's imagine for a moment that Guptagate happened next year instead of last week and that President Zuma had signed into law the Protection of State Information Bill.

Which, by the way, he has not yet done even though he has had plenty of time to do it. After all, it just means picking up a pen and signing a piece of paper. A couple of minutes at most. One has to wonder why he has taken so long about it, given the overwhelming support it got from his yes-men and women in Parliament, some of whom were so excited at the chance to please him that they pushed the wrong voting buttons and screwed up the system.

Anyway, let's assume that he put pen to paper and that the year is 2014 and a plane-load of wedding guests from India lands at Waterloo Air Force base and the 200 passengers all disembark and climb into a cavalcade of cars and scream off to Sun City under police escort.

I suspect that the media coverage of the scandalous event would be completely different had the POSI act been in place.

For a start, that photographer who took pictures of the wedding guests leaving the terminal at the Waterkloof base would have been arrested under the Act as would the guy who took a photo of the plane.

Questions from the media would have been answered with "sorry, but that information is subject to the Protection of State Information Act and if you publish anything at all you will be charged and imprisoned."

Now this might all sound a little far-fetched and absurd, but actually it isn't.

The thing is that once a government starts enacting muzzling legislation such as the current Protection of State Information Bill, it becomes a lot easier to simply carry on adding to it.

It's a bit like "just having one cigarette" or "just trying some tik" to see what it's like.

There is a huge risk that it will become a habit.

And that's the danger with this iniquitous POSIB - while the ANC will argue that it doesn't really amount to anything ominous, it is, for them, that first cigarette or that first taste of tik. The chances of it being followed by further seriously ominous legislation in years to come, is very real.

That's the problem when governments start messing with the fundamentals of democracy.

Fundamentals such as transparency, free speech, free press, freedom of access to information and so forth.

Ultimately they end up being something other than a democracy. They end upon being Robert Mugabe's idea of democracy.

So, enjoy Guptagate while you can, because next year we might not even know that something like this even happened.

- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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