It's not over, Zille warns on info bill

2011-11-22 22:34

Cape Town - Vociferous protests in and outside Parliament failed to stop the ANC majority driving the contentious protection of state information bill through the National Assembly on Tuesday.

The so-called "secrecy bill" was adopted with 229 to 107 votes by the 400-member chamber, drawing a flat warning from opposition leader Helen Zille that the legislation was heading for constitutional review.

"It is not over. This will undoubtedly end in the Constitutional Court," Zille said on the steps of Parliament, surrounded by journalists wearing black in symbolic mourning at the bill's feared impact on media freedom.

SA National Editor's Forum chairperson Mondli Makhanya said the press corps felt "broken inside" after watching it move closer to becoming law .

"We never thought we would come here dressed in black to witness the Constitution of our country being betrayed by those who built it."

Makhanya said the battle against the draft law criminalising publishing classified information would continue and that editors would work with unions and activists to fight it.

Zille raised the prospect that those MPs who voted against the bill could use clause 80 of the Constitution to refer the bill for review within 30 days of the president signing it into law.

"Don't forget, we got a third of the vote," she said.

Opposition heckled

The bill was debated last week, but what was meant to be a simple vote on Tuesday turned into a second, hour-long debate as opposition parties first took recourse to every rule in the book to delay the inevitable, then finally appealed to ANC MPs to ignore a three-line whip and reject the draft law.

It fell on deaf ears, with senior ministers like Trevor Manuel heckling opposition members who warned that the party was betraying South Africans and its own struggle for democracy.

The Inkatha Freedom Party said the unpopular legislation that drew hundreds of protesters to Parliament on Tuesday would lead the ANC to lose its legitimacy and challenged it to take it to the people in a referendum.

Congress of the People leader and former ANC minister Mosiuoa Lekota invoked the fate of the Rand Daily Mail and said the African National Congress would, like the apartheid state, suffer the shame of jailing journalists and whistleblowers who alerted the public to wrongdoing.

"I shudder to think that the men and women who say that money is being stolen will be locked up in the name of the African National Congress," he shouted to applause from the opposition benches and a packed public gallery.

Sustained opposition has led to several amendments to the bill in the past year and DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said her party would fight for further changes in the National Council of Provinces.

If that failed, she would petition President Jacob Zuma not to sign the bill, but to send it back to Parliament.

"But if this bill is signed into law, I will lead an application to the Constitutional Court to have the act declared unconstitutional," she added.

Media houses, a coalition of 400 civil rights groups, and ANC ally the Congress of SA Trade Unions have also vowed to go to court to challenge the bill

Cosatu's main concern is the bill's lack of protection for whistle-blowers who pass on classified documents to expose corruption, but it also supports widespread calls for a public interest defence.

Such a defence would enable people prosecuted for publishing classified information to argue in mitigation that they had done so in the public interest.

State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele reiterated last week that the ANC would not allow such "reckless practice".

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has suggested that the ANC may strengthen the related public interest override, but this would allow journalists only to ask courts to rule that they may publish classified documents and would not offer any defence once they landed in the dock for doing so.

The draft law introduces prison sentences of up to 25 years for publishing state secrets and up to 15 years for revealing information about the operations of the intelligence community.

The provision raises fears that the intelligence services could amass too much power and become embroiled in political power struggles.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela wrote to the Speaker that the bill would impact on her work because she relies heavily on information from whistleblowers and the media.

In a radio interview on Tuesday, Madonsela said the media was also integral to public discourse in a democracy.

"If it's not going to be possible to have a dialogue on public life, that's going to be a problem."

National security

The Office of the ANC chief whip welcomed the bill being passed in the National Assembly, and maintained that whistleblowers will be protected.

Spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the bill was essentially a security bill, not a media bill.

He said it was aimed at protecting the national security of the country.

"It is firmly in line with best international practice as states have constitutional obligations to protect their people and territorial integrity."

He said the bill was a consequence of the acknowledgement that there were still inconsistencies and discrepancies in the current Protection of Information Act, of 1982, which presently regulates protection of disclosure of certain information.

"A review of the current Act revealed that it is outdated, as it contains some provisions that are contrary to the Constitution and other legislation in that it contains legal presumptions which are deemed to be unconstitutional."

He said the rights of whistleblowers were not prejudiced in any manner.

"The bill provides that any person who unlawfully and intentionally discloses classified information in contravention of the Act is guilty of an offence, except where such disclosure is protected under the Protected Disclosures Act, 26 of 2000."

The Protected Disclosures Act, commonly referred to as the "Whistleblowers Act", sets out detailed procedures and steps that whistleblowers must follow when disclosing unlawful activities, incompetence or corruption in organs of state.

"The bill does not interfere with these rights of whistleblowers," he said.

He said the ANC prefers an approach where if anyone comes across classified information and wants to use it, that person must follow the procedures set out in the bill and apply for permission to do so.

"The bill also has a faster procedure where a person can apply for access to classified information if it is linked to an imminent and serious public safety or environmental risk."

  • Trudy - 2011-11-23 12:19

    Trevor, jy's 'n moegoe!

  • 3pherb - 2011-11-23 12:51

    Its simple: What the people dont know cannot hurt the Government!!

  • 3pherb - 2011-11-23 12:53

    Freedom is more than having Power!

  • Stolla - 2011-11-23 12:58

    This Act is the beginning of the end of the ANC itself. Their members have also been misled ---- this Act is equally aplicable to them as to the rest. You have empowered your leaders to also keep you, Mr/ Mrs Loyal ANC Member, in the dark, to mislead you by covering up their fraudulent schemes. As you know there are leaders who have records that do not warrant them to be trusted that much. How can you allow them to undermine the Constitution and mislead you so injuriously --- shame on you !!!!

  • Silvana - 2011-11-23 13:44

    "Public Protector Thuli Madonsela wrote to the Speaker that the bill would impact on her work because she relies heavily on information from whistleblowers and the media." That's what they want Thuli. You're too effective for their liking. Their next step is to get rid of the public protector. Watch this space!

      Joseph - 2011-11-24 00:56

      Why is the media using informants in their work.

  • MadMorgs - 2011-11-23 13:51

    Go Zille!!!

  • Coda - 2011-11-23 13:55

    Well said Helen. Lindiwe was fantastic in parliament yesterday - I am certain that there were more than a few uncomfortable ANC members listening to you. Keep up the good work!

  • bplupiya - 2011-11-23 14:03

    WHATS THERE TO HIDE? we are the voter..we are the govenment...we are the people...WE NEED TO KNOW...WE DEMAND TO KNOW....AND THE MEDIA IS OUR EYES AND EARS...

  • Willowred - 2011-11-23 14:12

    October 19 1977 - South Africa's Apartheid government bans several local newspapers for publishing news articles about the beating and murder of Steve Biko at the hands of the police... the ANC protested this violently. Fast Forward... November 22 2011 - South Africa's ANC government passes the Protection of Information Bill allowing the incarceration (for up to 25 years) and banning of any journalist or entity that makes public information about the corrupt nature or actions of members of government.

  • Barrie - 2011-11-23 14:25

    Negative media about the ANC has had a bad effect on their voters and supporters. In order for ANC to seek a long term future as the ruling party they need to stop the media in some way. This is one step closer for them to have long term rule over SA, and one step closer of becoming a dictatorship not a democracy.

  • Dewald - 2011-11-23 14:42

    Ag, tannie Helen... Ek dink jy is nogal 'n regte rabbedoe en heel dapper, maar ai my antie, kan jy nie tel nie? Julle gaan elke keer, op elk liewe dingetjie uitgestem word. Verstaan my tannie nou wat oom APT se besware teen een-man-een-stem was?

  • Mart - 2011-11-23 14:51

    We need to get smarter about sharing information. This is an opportunity to broadcast news into the country from outside the borders. It's going to happen so why not get in on the ground floor ?? I also suggest that the whistleblowers start whistling now before this law is enacted. If you have dirt to dish out you will sleep better if you share the burden with the rest of!

  • Patsy - 2011-11-23 15:11

    What happened to our constitution - one of "the best ine the world"???(so said) See Chapter 2, the Bill of Rights, FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, 16 especially (a) Freedom of the Press and other Media. does this Parliament actually have the right to rewrite this particular section? What happened to Democracy? Does it have another interpretation now?

  • nikki.bodenstein - 2011-11-23 20:37

    first year back in SA after 4 years abroad. you have my vote DA, enough of this anc rubbish

      nhlakanipho.maseko - 2011-11-25 00:09

      ..the DA has exhausted its available options now its trying the VERY LARGE slice of cake..they must just forget it..not even a black face will capture our support...there many black faces we can choose from...

  • Cynthia - 2011-11-24 15:43

    Is this what Mr. Mandela sat in jail for for 27 years? I bet his heart is breaking at the thought of what this government is doing to our country. This is merely a licence to carry on with your corruption without interruption!

      nhlakanipho.maseko - 2011-11-25 00:13

      ...stop betting lady..its addictive..and soon you will lose...Madiba knew what he was doing...that's why even Malema commends him for his delaying and learn..

  • Lordwick - 2011-11-24 21:01

    Ohhhhhhh,shame madam Hozille.The margin between your trolling party and the mighty ANC!!! I always feel sorry for the trollers on this site who always wish you be president......naaah.

      nhlakanipho.maseko - 2011-11-25 00:16

      ...its quite sad really, they thought it was over...they don't realise that this was planned a long time ago...TROLLS!!!

  • Mahomed - 2011-11-30 06:33

    this anc is not mandelas anc,they are not here for the people,but to make sure that thier pockets are always full and nobody must spy on them,what kind of democracy is this,which stupid person will vote for this anc, you must be mad!!!!

  • glyn.morgan.96 - 2013-02-26 20:57

    Vote DA.