Latest Mail & Guardian article

Secrets Bill has ‘not been defanged’

LYNLEY DONNELLY – Jan 21 2011 11:18

The ANC may have softened its stance on the proposed media appeals tribunal but there are fears that it is clinging to highly controversial provisions in the Protection of Information Bill.

Dubbed the “Secrets Bill” by critics and currently before Parliament, the legislation is designed to create a new system for the classification and protection of state information.

The Bill has been roundly criticised by civil society and legal experts as a threat to democratic transparency and as inconsistent with the Constitution.

There has been an incremental shift in the ANC’s position on the legislation, say some observers, which was initially characterised by its dismissal of concerns that it was being rushed through Parliament for completion by the end of last year.

However, opposition MPs and civil society remain concerned that some of the most problematic provisions have yet to be dealt with by the ad hoc committee on the Protection of Information Bill, the term of which expires next Thursday.

The chairperson of the committee, Cecil Burgess, was at pains this week to emphasise that the Bill is not being rushed through. He conceded that if the committee could not finish dealing with the proposed law its lifespan might have to be extended.

One ANC committee member, who asked not to be named, said the ANC had been grappling with the many criticisms of the Bill raised in public hearings.
“There has been honest discussion on issues including questions of what we want to achieve with this legislation and whether we’ve gone overboard,” said the MP. “There has been movement on the ANC’s side.”

Commercial information
Concessions include the removal of commercial information as potentially classifiable under the Bill, as well as the removal of the vague term “national interest” as a criterion for barring access to information.

Another example has been the bid to align the Bill with the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), which governs how the public can obtain state information and includes a public-interest override, allowing for access to state information when it is in the public interest.

But MPs and civil society say that the most problematic elements of the Bill remain unaddressed. “The Bill has not been defanged,” said the Democratic Alliance’s David Maynier.

Major concerns include the failure to narrow sufficiently the definition of the term “national security” as grounds for classification, as well as to identify what information may be classified, said Mark Weinberg, the national coordinator of the civil society coalition, the Right2Know campaign.

In addition, the ANC’s proposal to include the concept of information-peddling as a threat to national security is “new to international discourse and too broad,” he noted.

An information-peddler is defined in the Bill as a person who uses “illegal and intrusive” techniques of information-gathering, and who falsifies information with the intention to destabilise the state.

“There has not been a lot of progress and [the Bill] is still a long way from what is acceptable under our constitutional dispensation,” said Weinberg.
In addition, the legislation still does not provide for a public-interest defence in cases of disclosure of classified information.

“The argument is that if we are going the route of PAIA, which includes a public-interest override to gain access, why shouldn’t we have a public-interest defence clause?” asked Steve Swart, a member of the committee representing the African Christian Democratic Party.

The scope of the Bill is still seen as excessively broad, as it applies to all organs of state. This could affect the independence of certain institutions and have administrative and financial implications for government and state-run entities.

The Bill continues to impose criminal sanctions on the legitimate disclosure of state secrets in the public interest, said Weinberg. “The penalties are still applied to society at large and are outrageously high,” he said.

The Bill provides for jail terms of up to five years for unlawful disclosure, regardless of whether it is in the public interest, and if the offence is deemed espionage or hostile activity sentencing can be up to 25 years.

Right2Know said there is also no provision for an independent body appointed by Parliament to be the arbiter of decisions on what to classify as secret.

Instead, the highest level of appeal remains the minister of state security.

 

Here’s the original:

http://mg.co.za/article/2011-01-21-secrets-bill-has-not-been-defanged

Right2Know protest was a big success!!

We’v e said so before. These Right2Know people really know what they’re doing.

This week they organised a march to Parliament to hand over a 11 000 strong petition against the Protection of Information Bill, as well as a memorandum, signed by 500 of SA’s writers, including JM Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. Around 2000 people took part, from all walks of life – black, white, Indian, coloured, Rastafarian, you name it. Some of the more well-known names that spoke in front of our government’s buildings were Kadar Asmal, former Minister of Education, Andre Brink, famous South African author, Nic Dawes, Mail & Guardian editor, Tony Ehrenreich, Cosatu provincial secretary and satire cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro, aka Zapiro.

Another march was organised by Right2Know in Jozi, where a few hundred people marched on Constitution Hill. Participants of this march including our very much-loved Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Media Monitoring Africa, the Professional Journalists Association, and writer Nadine Gordimer herself.

Read more about the marches at:

http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/western-cape/withdraw-info-bill-ehrenreich-1.689560?showComments=true

http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=124237

We love the message from Andre Brink to our government (he did give a family-friendly version of it afterwards):

You can not fuck with writers!

Go Andre!

Here are some pics from the march in Cape Town.

Viva freedom of speech, viva!!!!

 

DA March in Cape Town today!!

By the time you read this it’ll be Tuesday the 12th Oct.

There’s a march organised by the DA to hand over a petition to Parliament in opposition to the Media Appeals Tribunal and Protection of Information Bill.

If you can, meet at 11.30am, at Keizersgracht St opposite CPUT.

Check out the informative Facebook community that’s getting people involved and join forces.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Stop-the-Protection-of-Information-Bill/144905835538009

Over 30 000 sign Avaaz petition in a week!

So here’s proof that when we stand up together, we can really make a difference. Remember that Avaaz petition that I posted? Well check out what Times Live had to say about it’s effect.

Media grateful for support

Sep 29, 2010 10:24 PM | By ZANDILE MBABELA and AMUKELANI CHAUKE


South African media organisations have welcomed the support shown by ordinary citizens against the proposed Protection of Information Bill and the Media Appeals Tribunal.

Last week civil organisations sent a petition to ANC officials during the national general council condemning what they viewed as a huge threat to media freedom, which is a “key aspect of SA’s young democracy”.

Media organisation Avaaz started the petition last Wednesday and had garnered 30276 signatures against the ANC’s proposal by yesterday.

SA National Editors’ Forum chairman Mondli Makhanya said the media was encouraged by the support from civil society, who will also be greatly affected by both proposals.

“We’ve been emphasising all along that the fight against the tribunal and secrecy bill was not just about journalists and the media, but about the public’s right to know. Media freedom is not ours only,” he said.

Makhanya said the uproar against the proposed media regulatory body had forced the ministry of state security to “tone down the bill” and for the ANC to “rethink” aspects of the tribunal.

“They’ve since withdrawn some of the clauses because one of the main concerns was the broadness of the term ‘national interest’.”

Makhanya said the fact that they saw fit to change it shows the power of the public’s voice.

William Bird, the director of Media Monitoring Africa, said South Africans needed to engage on how best to curb the statutory nature of the media appeals tribunal.

“We know that our current systems [as media] are not 100%, but that does not warrant the statutory nature of the media appeals tribunal,” he said.

“Our focus should be on strengthening the media, as opposed to stifling it, and keeping regulation independent. There will definitely be a substantial change in the media landscape – whether by putting the tribunal into effect or by coming up with a stronger self-regulatory system.”

  • Meanwhile, the ANC caucus in Parliament will initiate processes to investigate the formation of the proposed media tribunal – but it is not known how long this will take.

The party’s spokesman, Ishmael Mnisi, said after the ANC resolved for the regulatory body to be formed, it was then up to parliament to determine the start of the process.

“The ANC caucus in parliament will initiate the process and make submissions to the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications, and after that, debates will escalate,” Mnisi said.

The Times understands that the proposal says the intended body would be independent of both the media and politicians, and would have appropriate punitive measures that exclude pre-publication censorship.

Go to the original here:

http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/article682749.ece/Media-grateful-for-support

Avaaz joins our fight!

Exciting news!

Join what’s soon to be over 25 000 people in signing the international Avaaz.org petition.

http://www.avaaz.org/en/protect_south_africas_democracy/?cl=762060177&v=7218

If you don’t know about Avaaz.org yet, here is an excerpt from their site:

In 3 years, Avaaz has grown to 5.5 million members from every country on earth, becoming the largest global web movement in history. 

The Economist writes of Avaaz’ power to “give world leaders a deafening wake-up call”; the Indian Express heralds “the biggest web campaigner across the world, rooting for crucial global issues.” and Suddeutsche Zeitung calls Avaaz “a transnational community that is more democratic, and could be more effective than the United Nations.” Run by a virtual team on 3 continents, Avaaz operates in 14 languages.

Avaaz empowers its members to take action on pressing issues of international concern, from global poverty to the crises in the Middle East to climate change. Its model of internet organising allows thousands of individual efforts, however small, to be rapidly combined into a powerful collective force.

Since 2007, Avaaz has:

  • taken over 20 million actions online and offline, including messages sent, phone calls and petition signatures, and over 70 million friends told.
  • raised over $10 million online, including millions in funding and high tech support for human rights and democracy advocates in Burma, Zimbabwe, Tibet, Iran, Haiti and more.
  • organized almost 10,000 rallies, flashmobs, vigils, marches and other online events—giving a massive boost to the climate change movement.
  • won YouTube’s Best Political Video of the Year Award, and the Huffington Post’s “Ultimate Gamechanger in Politics” award.

Zuma Smoke and Mirrors

The latest official statement from the ANC corner. What a joke!

What do you think?

President Jacob Zuma welcomes media letters

10 Sep 2010

President Jacob Zuma has welcomed the letters he has received from various media groupings locally and internationally, raising their concerns about the Protection of Information Bill, as well as the ruling party’s Media Appeals Tribunal.

Among the correspondence received, are letters from media groupings, non-governmental organisations, concerned groupings of society, professional bodies, individuals and organisations, such as the Writers Against the Protection of Information Bill, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, Section 27, the Auckland Park Declaration, the Right to Know Campaign, South African Journalism Schools, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Agence France Presse, Bloomberg, the Associated Press, Reuters and others.

President Zuma wishes to assure the media groupings that government remains fully committed to media freedom as enshrined in the Constitution. He welcomes the inputs made to the debate in the public arena and also in Parliament at the public hearings, which indicates the vibrancy of South African society.

“We respect the Constitution of our country; we fought hard for it to be as progressive and as exemplary as it is. This Bill will not undermine the spirit of the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, and we wish to assure the media houses in that regard’, said President Zuma.

The aim of the Protection of Information Bill is to improve the security of the state with regards to the work of counter-espionage and information peddling, among other things.

Media comments and letters on the Media Appeals Tribunal have been forwarded to the ruling party.

Background information on the Protection of Information Bill

Government requires legislation to deal with modern day information challenges:

• Modern day challenges of information peddling, increasing trend of espionage and theft of sensitive government information requires that government develops appropriate legislation, amongst other things, to deal with such challenges.
• Many examples exist of threats emanating both in our country as well as externally, in the region and the world.
• This Bill is meant to repeal an old 1982 apartheid Act which has provisions that are not suitable in our democratic dispensation.
• All democratic governments, the world over, promote openness and various rights related to freedom of expression. However, they also recognise that secrecy is an important element that is required to protect the very same democracy.
• The UK and many British colonies use the legislation which is based on their 1889 Official Secrets Act.

The Bill is not a ‘media bill’ and government has no intention of undermining freedom of expression

• The Bill before Parliament is neither a ‘media bill’ nor is it aimed at ‘curtailing media freedom’, as has been claimed by some critics.
• Government recognises and respects the role that media plays in strengthening the democratic system of governance
• Government respects  the citizens’ right of access to information as enshrined in the Constitution and will continue to ensure that its work does much more to safeguard this and other rights such as the  freedom of expression
• It is simply not correct that this Bill is meant to hide corruption or inefficiencies within the broad system of government. In fact, it makes such a practice an offence.

Information that has been in the public domain will not be severely curtailed

• The Bill seeks to provide protection of information that has been, generally, not in the public domain in terms of existing legislation
• The protection is meant to deal with unlawful release, loss, alteration or destruction of such information, this to ensure that such information is safeguarded and actually kept within the system for later use.

Government respects the Constitution and will not pursue any legislation that is unconstitutional

• Government is obliged to conduct its business within the ambit of the Constitution
• It is the Constitution that directs how government business must be managed and government will not seek to undermine the spirit of the Constitution in any manner or form

The Bill provides for better management and safeguarding of certain information while promoting openness

• As the Bill stands, it describes in detail the requirements that must be fulfilled in classifying information, how the classified information must be handled and how the public can appeal for classified information to be made available, including the appeals procedure that allows members of the public to petition the courts, should they feel so.
• The Bill will, for the first time, make certain information available, through declassification. This will promote the free flow of information that has previously not been made available

Wrong doing and deliberate misuse and abuse of this Bill will result in criminal charges against government officials
• Any attempts, on the part of the Heads of Organs of State, to use the bill to hide illegal acts such as corruption and related matters, will be prosecuted.

Parliamentary Process

• Government notes that the Bill is currently within the Parliamentary processes and is being considered by the Adhoc Committee.
• Government appreciates the work that the Committee has been doing, inviting the public to make their inputs and presentations.
• Government, through the Minister of State Security, has considered the valid and useful submissions made during the process of public hearings.
• The focus is on areas which may be broad and vague, with a potential to infringe on the constitutional framework of the country.
• The Minister will therefore table a comprehensive response to Parliament, when the Committee working on the Bill sits for its next meeting.
Enquiries:
Zizi Kodwa
Cell: 082 330 4910

Issued by: The Presidency
10 Sep 2010

Here’s the link: http://www.info.gov.za/speech/DynamicAction?pageid=461&sid=12865&tid=17809

Political Action at Cape Tech