South Africa's assembly passes 'secrecy bill,' stirring journalists' fears
Journalists and civic groups warn that the Protection of Information or 'secrecy bill,' will criminalize investigative journalism. The government says it will bolster South Africa's national security.
(Page 2 of 2)
In Cape Town, activists wore black clothes or armbands to show their concern over the bill, while on Twitter, words like “secrecy,” “censored,” and “democracy” were among the terms most often tweeted. South African newspapers printed a joint statement on their front pages, warning about what they called South Africa’s “day of reckoning.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mr. Dawes and other journalists argue that the bill will effectively criminalize investigative journalism, by allowing government officials to use the ruse of national secrets to hide either mistakes or outright corrupt practices. But some political analysts note that the new bill specifically forbids public officials from using the secrecy provisions to cover up corruption.
“This is not going to affect the media,” says Steven Friedman, a longtime political analyst and director of the University of Johannesburg’s Center for the Study of Democracy. “I think the current bill will be bad for freedom, but I don’t think it’s any worse than any of the legislation passed in the US or Britain after 9/11.”
The dangers of the current bill are more apparent for citizen’s advocacy groups, and particularly those with less access to funding, such as a shack-dweller’s association in a poor black township.
“If shack-dwellers wanted to find out where the money was spent that was meant to fix their roads and sanitation, and a public official said, ‘Oh no, this information is classified,’ it is unlikely those shack-dwellers would have the access to money to launch an investigation the way a major newspaper would,” says Mr. Friedman.
But Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele says that passage of the Protection of Information bill, in its present form, is necessary to protect the interests of all South Africans, rich and poor, from the actions of South Africa’s foreign enemies.
“This new bill is not about regulating the media,” wrote Mr. Cwele, in a column on the ANC’s public website. The bill, he says, is about “spies.”
“The foreign spies continue to steal our sensitive information in order to advantage their nations at the expense of advancement of South Africa and her people,” Cwele wrote. “The truth has now become obvious for all to see as to what drives us in enacting the Protection of Information Bill. This is to repeal the apartheid law, deal with espionage, information peddling, provide for the classification and declassification of information, establish an independent Classification Review Panel and continue to balance the public interests of national security and access to information.”