SA’s Secrecy Bill – Another Threat to Media Freedom

by Aug 5, 2010All Articles

The government is in the process of passing a law that will limit access to government information undermining transparency, accountability, and media freedom in South Africa. The Protection of Information Bill allows every organ of state – from government departments and parastatals to the smallest municipality – to throw a blanket of secrecy over its documents. If the law is passed whistle blowers leaking, and journalists reporting, on these documents can face up to 25 years in jail. The Bill goes before parliament this month and civil society are organizing to oppose it’s passing.

If enacted, the Protection of Information Bill would challenge the fundamental right enshrined in Section 32* of our Constitution which assures everyone’s right of access to any information held by the state and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.

Some of the concerning provisions of the Bill:

* The ease with which commercial information held by the state can be deemed ‘classified’

* All levels of government including parastatals can deny access to ‘their’ documents with the power to classify widely distributed and delegated

* Whole categories of information can be classified, even if only a small amount of information within that category is truly classifiable

* Documents can be classified if their disclosure “may be harmful to the security or national interest of the Republic” with the term “national interest” including “all matters relating to the advancement of the public good”.

* Criminalisation of unauthorised possession or disclosure, even if no intent to prejudice the “national interest”

* No “in the public interest” defence

* Members of the public or journalists are as guilty as those who disclose classified information

* Penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment

* No independent monitoring or appeal process

These provisions would likely lead to:

* Limited access to information

* Lack of control over and inconsistencies in approach of classification

* Reduced public scrutiny of tender processes

* Less competitiveness and accountability

* Greater corruption

* Restricted media freedom

* Fewer cases of whistle-blowing relating to fraud and other malpractice

The Protection of Information Bill is directly at odds with the Constitution and poses a major threat to investigative journalism and our democracy. The Bill must be withdrawn immediately. 

Read the Protection of Information Bill

Read submissions on the Bill

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