Thursday, July 22, 2010

Protection of Information Bill hearing commenced today

By Lusanda Bill
22 July 2010

The Protection of Information Bill hearings commenced today in Parliament, and with numerous presentation to take place the hearing began.

The Durban Legal Research Association made their presentation referring numerous times to the constitution and comparing the Constitution to the Bill.

The DLRA stated that the Bill is a step in the right way but it needs further consultation with ordinary citizen and sharpening then the Bill would be fine.

They also said that the access to information in the country needs to improve and whistleblowers need to be protected in our country. Next was the South African Editors’ Forum (SANEF) represented by Raymond Louw and their argument was that the Bill will jeopardise what freedom of expression and access of information stands for.

They also stated that the implementation of the Bill would mean that the state would have a tighter grip on power of information.

SANEF wants the maximum amount of openness from the Government because it would be difficult for the media to operate freely if they have to deal with classification and access of information. He also stated that the problem with the Bill is that there was a lack of consultation from stake holders.

The Print Media South Africa (PMSA) represented by Dario Milo then took to the floor.

His main issue was that the Bill as it stands achieves maximum security rather then maximum openness. PMSA believes that the Bill will infringe on the rights of people and the Bill does not include public interest defence.

He stated that the public justice media should have parallel role in investigating crime.

Nic Dawes from the Mail and Guardian made his presentation starting with the statement that too much secrecy undermines the point of our freedom.

The Bill causes destructiveness both in democracy and security. He stated that state security matters makes it difficult to report at all as a media company and that there are overlapping roles between freedom to access of information and state security.

He ended off by stating that this Bill is just the tip of the iceberg of problems to follow. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) represented by Chantel Kisoon the main argument is for transparency of the Bill because she stated that the current Bill has a high risk of difficulties.

SAHRC stated that if people are restricted of information then that would be a huge failure on our democracy. The members of parliament had lots of questions to ask the people presenting to better understand where the public is coming from.

Overall the main arguments that came out today is that one the balance between freedom of access of information and state security, secondly the Bill causes and undermines journalism as a whole and lastly that there needs to be openness from government.

Journalists are not in support of the Bill in any form because it will make the job of the journalist much more difficult. The committee will gather in parliament on Tuesday to discuss all the presentations and the way forward.

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