FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ON SAPA-PR-WIRE
LATEST PROPOSALS TO THE PROTECTION OF INFORMATION BILL
24 June 2011
The African National Congress has given very serious and careful consideration to many concerns expressed about certain provisions of the Protection of Information Bill [B6B-2010]. These concerns were expressed by members of the ANC, ordinary members of the public, civil society organizations and Members of Parliament, amongst others.
Given our history and the often horrific experiences we have had with our security services; and given the provisions of our Constitution which enjoins us to “recognise the injustices of our past”, the African National Congress wants to change the culture of secrecy.
The ANC believes that decisions taken by state departments and civil servants must be both justifiable and be able stand the test of accountability.
To this end the ANC, therefore, proposes that:
1. The scope of application of the Protection of Information Bill, insofar as it applies to the authority to classify information, such scope must be drastically reduced to apply only to the country’s security services.
2. An opt-in clause be provided for in the Bill which will allow organs of state or entities of state to apply to be allowed to classify information on good cause shown; 3. A retired judge be provided for in the appeals process; 4. The minimum sentences provisions in the Offences clause be removed, with the possible exception of the crime of espionage. Moreover, we must ensure that the penalties and sanctions in the Offences clause meet the test of proportionality; and 5. The Bill’s provisions must ensure that this legislation is not abused such that it is used to hide corruption and other serious offences.
The ANC believes that these proposed changes to this Bill will help meet the difficult and competing demands of national security within a rights-based, constitutional democracy such as ours.
The Office of the ANC Chief Whip
ANC Parliamentary Caucus
Parliament of the RSA
Cape Town, 8000
IT took days and thousands of Internet rumours for the authorities to come to their senses and issue a detailed formal statement on the health of former president, Nelson Mandela.
At noon on Friday, the deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe ended speculation that Mandela was at death’s door with these words:
“Madiba is well. He is receiving the best treatment from top doctors. There is no need for us to panic. There is no reason for us to fear for Madiba’s health.”
Motlanthe was speaking at Johannesburg’s Milpark hospital, until then off-limits to journalists.
Motlanthe, it must be said, prefaced his remarks by thanking the media for expressing the fears and concerns of the nation over Mandela’s health.
He seemed bemused by the extent of the attention given to Mandela, comparing it to an incident eight years ago when Mandela had been admitted to hospital with barely any interest shown.
Two important changes have taken place since then. The first is that Mandela has aged by eight years and, at 92, is much frailer than he was back in 2002.
The second is the advent of social media and the rise of public reporting on events.
Government would do well to ask itself what it is doing to adapt to this new media environment.
It is now possible for anyone with a cellphone to publish news and information to a national audience of what might be described as “key-influencers” via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
These mediums have brought greater freedom, variety and penetration to news, but they come at a price.
They are very good at allowing the events witnessed by users to reach a larger audience, but not accurate sources of hard news which is at some remove.
They do not employ the sorts of accuracy and fairness checks that newspapers such as this insist on prior to publication.
Most of the time these wild reports are treated for what they are: The sometimes witty thumbings of the uninformed.
But when they tap into a national anxiety such as that over the health of President Nelson Mandela, the dumbest thumb becomes a powerful sources of rumour.
Responding requires both agility and speed. Government and perhaps other institutions such as the Nelson Mandela Foundation, need to make their voices heard in real time and on the right platforms, mowing down rumours and speculation with detail and facts.
They would make a grave mistake if they believe that Twitter is an elitist phenomenon in a country where almost every adult carries a cellphone. Motlanthe did well to put out the fire, but he would not have needed to do this if communication had been open from the start.
THERE is no other way to characterise this week’s arrest of Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika as anything other than a blatant attempt to intimidate him and this newspaper.
There are several aspects to this arrest which remain disturbing.
The first is that it involved eight or more policemen, their police sirens blazing at our premises in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Fewer policemen have been called on to arrest of violent thugs.
The second is that police refused, until many hours had passed, to allow him access to his legal representative or to inform his lawyer of where he was being held.
The third is the fact that even when three prosectors in Mpumalanga declined to take the case forward because of the flimsiness of the docket, the police refused to release him.
The fourth is that the state argued before a High Court in Pretoria that he should remain in jail because it was only “a few hours” until he was due to appear in court. That representatives of a democratic government could conjure up such a defence was very disappointing.
The fifth was that, despite their many efforts to keep our reporter in jail, the state did not oppose bail the following morning.
The above five concerns are serious enough but they are compounded by acts of omission.
The silence on this flagrant abuse of power from Pretoria was deafening, suggesting that this sort of thuggish behaviour enjoys the support of those at the highest level of government.
This was compounded by the silence of civil society with the notable exception of media institutions who rallied strongly behind the need for proper legal processes to be followed.
It is the fashion amongst the political classes to look at social networks such as twitter and facebook as little more than titillation.
But the good citizens who use these networks showed far more spine and ethical clarity than those you would expect to rise to the defence of freedom.
A notable exception to this was the leader of the Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, who produced a cogent and principled critique of the state’s plans to erode media freedom.
Who could have imagined that even as Zille rose to defend freedom the likes of Jeremy Cronin would pen apologies for its reduction?
Who would have imagined that lawyers would be at the Pretoria High Court at night seeking an urgent interdict to have a journalist released while lawyers acting for the democratic state sought to keep him in jail?
The time has come for all who value this freedom to speak out against those who value power.
THE beauty of the ANC’s freshly released document, “Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity” is the party’s refreshing admission that it loathes criticism.
But to get to the honesty you first have to negotiate the doublespeak. The invention of the term “doublespeak” has been wrongly attributed to George Orwell. But Orwell did invent the notion of “doublethink”.
Here’s the sentence in which it first made an appearance: “His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them …”
The ANC’s document starts out as a sermon: “All of us have a responsibility to defend media freedom and editorial independence from any form of compulsion, be it political, economic or commercial.”
But the next paragraph starts with the telling qualification, “However”, and it is downhill from there. Sentences such as this appear: “(A) Cursory scan on the print media reveals an astonishing degree of dishonesty, lack of professional integrity and lack of independence.”
And: “The abuse of positions of power, authority and public trust to promote narrow, selfish interests and political agendas inimical to our democracy. This points to the fact that the problem of what is called ‘brown envelope’ journalism. This type of rot is a much more serious problem than the media is willing to admit.”
And the remedy? The “ownership and control” of the media must be addressed. “Freedom of expression needs to be defended but freedom of expression can also be a refuge for journalist scoundrels, to hide mediocrity and glorify truly unprofessional conduct. Freedom of expression means that there should be objective reporting and analysis which is not coloured by prejudice and self-interest.”
The proposal is that a Media Appeals Tribunal be established. Such a tribunal, the ANC is at pains to stress, would be accountable to parliament “instead of the ANC with all its bias and firm views”. It is hard to share the ANC’s faith in the independence of its MPs.
The truth about the media is very different to that which this document offers. The lion’s share of South Africa’s radio and television stations, which the ANC acknowledges reach an audience more than double that of print media, fall under the ambit of the public broadcaster, which some view as all but an official mouthpiece of the ruling party.
South Africa’s press is robust, highly competitive and diverse and, in the case of this newspaper’s owners, Avusa, has a strong empowerment shareholding.
But that’s not good enough. The ANC wants the mirror to say it is the fairest in the land, every hour, every day.
SELF-FULFILLING prophecy is the catch phrase that’s being thrown around to explain this week’s attacks on foreigners.
Some are angry with those who have published warnings that plans were afoot to launch attacks on foreigners after the World Cup.
They believe that unsubstantiated rumours have been given oxygen, in turn inspiring acts of aggression against foreigners.
Those who have published such stories have defended themselves, pointing out how the media’s a failure to heed such warnings combined with a failure by government to act two years ago resulted in a blood bath.
The reality is that this debate takes us nowhere. Read More…
MENZI Simelane, the new head of public prosecutions, has moved to limit the media’s ability to interview prosecutors, issuing a directive that all such contact should take place only with “prior authorisation”.
The first effect of this ill-considered directive will be to undermine the vital practice of court reporting.
Every day throughout the country prosecutors and defence advocates talk to the media about the cases they are involved in.
These discussions are essential for reporting. They concern the clarification of legal language used in court and the checking of facts by reporters.
This move will be very damaging for court reporting which is vital to making legal proceedings transparent, a basic requirement for democracy.
Simelane may have different motives for this clamp down. He is, after all, a man appointed on the strength of his conviction that prosecutors ought to account to political masters for their decisions.
In light of the slew of embarrassing prosecutions of political leaders, several of whom have returned to prominence under the reign of President Jacob Zuma, his motive could be to limit the damage done by such prosecutions.
Cynics might wonder aloud: Could it be that Simelane believes he can keep such matters out of the public domain while he and his political masters nip them in the bud?
Whatever his motives, the move to ban open contact between journalists and prosecutors will have serious negative effects on the transparency of the courts.
Government should be encouraging this relationship so that the public continues to be aware of the successes the criminal justice system is having in chasing down many serious criminals.