Our Constitution is being threatened. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, (Act 108 of 1996) guarantees the freedom of the media and expression. These are fundamental cornerstones of a healthy democracy and a transparent government. The ANC have recently put forward two documents that threaten these freedoms:
1. The Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity Discussion Document
2. The Protection of Information Bill
Both these papers are currently at the top of the agenda for most South Africans and have received a great deal of coverage and debate in the media, especially following the arrest of Sunday Times journalist, Mzilikazi wa Africa on 4 August 2010.
As South Africans living abroad we have the opportunity to make a difference by getting informed and getting involved to ensure that our rights are protected.
Sign the online petition against the proposed Protection of Information Bill its implications for media freedom and freedom of expression in South Africa
The Media Appeals Tribunal of the ANC’s “Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity” discussion document is one of the papers that will be discussed by delegates at the upcoming ANC National General Council (NGC) to be held from the 20 – 24 September 2010.
The DA Abroad acknowledge that there are key issues facing the media, that this discussion document covers, for example the diversity of media ownership as well as the need to strengthen the current self-regulatory system. However, the document also proposes the setting up of a Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) to make the media “Accountable”, and this raises numerous concerns, most notably the fact that the members are appointed by Parliament. As Parliament is currently dominated by the ANC, the MAT would be automatically biased in favour of the ruling party and its policies, certainly not guaranteeing “independence, transparency, accountability and fairness” (point 106).
Preventing the media from enforcing self-regulation is censorship. The ANC must allow the media to continue enforcing responsible and ethical reporting, while also still continuing their vital role as watchdogs of those in power.
The Protection of Information Bill
The Protection of Information Bill is currently before parliament and, very worryingly, threatens South Africa’s free access to information that lay at the very heart of the struggle for freedom.
The new laws would allow the government to classify a broad range of material that is currently not secret. Under the new law, it would be illegal to leak or to publish information deemed classified by the government, and the offence would be punishable by imprisonment.
- The Bill makes it a punishable offence (up to 25 years in prison) to possess, communicate or publish classified state information.
- Any government information is classifiable if (in the judgment of politicians and senior civil servants) its disclosure is deemed harmful to the “national interest”. The Bill enables any “head of an organ of state” or any person delegated by them at a national, provincial or local level or parastatals, to classify documents. Importantly, it gives the Minister of State Security the power to define what categories of information are classifiable.
- The “national interest” is defined as all matters “relating to the advancement of the public good”, “the pursuit of justice, democracy, economic growth, free trade, a stable monetary system and sound international relations”, as well as “all things owned or maintained for the public by the state.”
Just like under apartheid, the Bill will allow the government to invoke the “national interest” to cover up abuse of power. Documents that contain evidence of corruption, maladministration or dodgy deals are likely to be classifiable – in the “national interest”.
This Bill would have a devastating impact on press freedom. In fact, it would effectively outlaw investigative journalism and whistle-blowing in relation to activities undertaken by the state, or the government.
Besides the threat this Bill poses to press freedom, it has another serious implication. It will mean that Parliament will lose its ability to effectively oversee the Presidency – one of the primary functions of a legislature in a democracy. Probing parliamentary questions are likely to be rebuffed on the grounds that divulging the requested information would pose a threat to the “national interest”.
There is most certainly a case for the state to be able to protect our national interests and security by classifying certain information, but this needs to be to the benefit of our nation rather than, an attempt to stop the flow of embarrassing government information to the people via whistle blowers and investigative journalism.
The DA will do the following:
In South Africa, the Democratic Alliance has a plan of action to defend our free society.
- Oppose the passage of the Bill through Parliament
- Lobby ANC MPs to vote against the Bill – We are aware that many ANC MPs are deeply troubled by this Bill. They believe it undermines our Constitution. But they also believe it undermines the Freedom Charter, the document to which the ANC regularly holds up as its ideological lodestar. It is worth noting that the Freedom Charter promotes media freedom and transparency.
- Meet the Speaker to discuss the ramifications of the Bill on Parliament
- Invoke Section 80 of the Constitution, which can call for the Constitutional Court to review the Act.
- Approach the Constitutional Court to overturn the Bill, should it become law.
For more info please read the DA’s official statement: “Media freedom: Our battle plan to save the open society”
What can you do?
One of the DA Abroad’s objectives is to create international awareness of key issues so that we can use the international spotlight as an external pressure point on developments in South Africa. Pressure from foreign governments and international big businesses are key influences on balancing power and guiding decisions in South Africa.
Outside of South Africa, we as South Africans living abroad can make a difference too. We can create international awareness and thereby stir up international influence.
- Sign the online petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/celbarp/petition.html
- Add a No Media Tribunal Sticker to your Facebook and Twitter profile: http://twibbon.com/join/No-Media-Tribunal
- If you do Tweet about this issue, use the #zamediafreedom and #zapressfreedom consistently.
Stay informed: Read these essential links
DA’s official statement – Media freedom: Our battle plan to save the open society
Zille defends free media [Audio] http://multimedia.timeslive.co.za/audio/2010/08/zille-defends-free-media/
Mail & Guardian coverage of the Protection of Information Bill
United We Stand: Auckland Park Declaration by SANEF and South African Newspaper Editor’s
Taking the ANC media tribunal at face value by Guy Burger
SA loses free status as media threats grow