MPs mull small concessions to media on info bill

2011-07-29 22:19

Cape Town - After months of wrangling, lawmakers on Friday won agreement from the ANC to at least consider proposals for extending protection to those who disclose classified information for the public good.

The ruling party insisted that it would not countenance a classic public interest defence for media in the protection of information bill - a battle cry of critics of the draft act - but said it would consider different opposition proposals for safeguards.

The Democratic Alliance's David Maynier proposed that the bill state clearly it is not an offence to disclose information if it was classified to cover up corruption or incompetence or to spare the state embarrassment.

The proposal leans on a clause that was written into the bill at the behest of the ANC to prevent and penalise wrongful classification.

The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) called for still wider protection for disclosure, suggesting that nobody should be considered guilty of an offence "if the public interest in the disclosure outweighs the public interest in non-disclosure".

As a narrower alternative, he proposed that lawmakers borrow from the public interest provisions in the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

Studying proposals

ANC MP Luwellyn Landers only offered one small outright concession but committed the ruling party to studying other parties' proposals.

He proposed decriminalising perusal of a classified document, though the bill would still oblige whoever came into possession of a state secret to hand it back to the security bodies and file an application for them to declassify it.

If this were refused, Landers said, the person could then turn to the appeal authority proposed in the bill.

"Essentially the rule of law applies equally to all people. The media cannot hold itself above the rule of law. If the media is in possession of a classified document... it must be taken back to the relevant authorities."

The concession was described by opposition MPs as "tiny" but it would prevent the potentially Orwellian situation where somebody comes across a state secret but cannot ask authorities to declassify it because he would then risk prosecution for possession of classified material.

Veil of secrecy

Maynier welcomed the ANC agreement to consider opposition submissions.

"I think it is a positive development that the ruling party is now considering the proposal and we look forward to hearing their view."

The ANC on Friday also agreed to consider scrapping section 43 of the bill, which prohibits the disclosure of a state security matter.

"I said we would look at it," Landers said.

The clause has been of great concern to activists as they believe it would enable the state to draw a veil of secrecy over any issue, including service delivery, by declaring that disclosure could threaten state security.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini said the ruling party had no choice but to agree to remove the clause because it ran counter to their promises to narrow the scope of application of the bill.

"It was a loophole bigger than the legislation itself."

Raft of concessions

Deliberations on the bill resumed on Monday after the ANC in June made a raft of concessions, including removing mandatory jail sentences for disclosure and restricting the power to classify to the intelligence and security structures.

But there was fresh alarm this week when it appeared to reverse some of the changes by slipping discarded notions back into the bill under the definition of national security.

These include the classification of economic information - a notion State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele had agreed to bin because of fears it would be abused to cover up corruption.

Discussions on what the nation needs to be protected from by means of classification is expected to resume when deliberations continue on Monday.

  • cgtours - 2011-07-29 22:43


      Rob Gunning - 2011-07-30 09:25

      Thats why it should be renamed to "hide the corruption and failure bill"

  • DerpyHooves - 2011-07-29 23:46

    The MP can *censored* my *censored*. "True" free speech is a basic human right. *censored* my life.

  • markings - 2011-07-30 04:07

    I don't think the ANC is dealing with this bill in good faith. How can their own members support it?

      grant9 - 2011-07-30 04:24

      To answer your question. The Anc are corrupt from the very top down to the bottom. The people at the bottom want their turn at the trough. They find it such an inconvenience to have a free press and freedom of information. Think about it : If it were not for the press, would we have ever heard about travelgate, the arms deals or even Malema's R16 million house?

      BigD - 2011-07-30 06:43

      @ grant. We know about these wrong doings but nothing happens to the guilty.

  • Afrika - 2011-07-30 06:01

    This is proof that the ANC are the only party for the people of SA; unlike the right wing parties, they are at least willing to engage the opposition in a constructive manner - in spite of all the negative propaganda that the imperialist capitalist owned media have published about this crucial piece of legislation.

      Dan Grey - 2011-07-30 07:35

      You're wrong, because we know the contents of the original media muzzle bill as presented by the ANC. It is only the fierce resistance put up by the promoters of free speech that caused the ANC to re-think their unconstitutional actions. Funny that the right wing parties agree with transparency and freedom of information and speech. You are a totally confused brainwashed moron. You must be an ANC supporter.

      Babba x - 2011-07-30 07:56

      @ Dan Grey. You can't reason with the comrades. They simply just don't have the grey matter. That's why the need whites to lead the drafting of this bill

  • Babba x - 2011-07-30 07:53

    So the arms deal scandal would be classified as national security only to cover up the corrupt dealings of the ANC? So would the Travelgate scandal. It is not in the interest of the public to know how and for what reasons ANC MP's are travelling as this could compromise national and their own security... Viva, the secrecy bill is only meant to cover up the corrupt dealings of the ANC. Why are whites leading this? Can't the comrades think up their own excuses?

      mario88 - 2011-07-30 08:52

      That is a problem with the whites in this country. They just too weak and cannot unite. We don,t have a backbone to stand up to this bunch of communists.It would be politicly incorrect. (example Pik and FW, now they crying but it is too late already)

  • umhlopo - 2011-07-30 09:54

    in the interest of national security the anc should have a full audit and investigation into all their corrupt officials,if they carry on with all their nonsence then things will blow up in their faces, people are getting gatvol for all their lies,corruption and hate speech.You can only push people for so long then they start pushing back,its happening all over africa and will soon happen here

  • Anonymous123 - 2011-07-30 14:24

    Anonymous South Africa to raise world wide awareness for government corruption and censorship in South Africa and provide information on how to protest in relative safety see.

  • Anonymous123 - 2011-07-30 22:56

    At this rate we'll lucky to have another election.

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