This week, the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) undertook what has now become a familiar visit to Parliament in a
bid to stop yet another cynical attempt to erode press freedom.
The difference this time is that the offending Protection of Information Bill has been roundly condemned by civil society and even government agencies themselves for its insidiousness.
The chorus of condemnation has come from, among others, the Institute for Democracy in SA, the Human Rights Commission, the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, the SA Media and Gender Institute, Eskom, the Open Democracy Advice Centre
and Print Media Association.
In its current form, the bill provides definitions of national security and national interest that are so absurdly broad they would severely restrict access to information for just about anybody and any institution; making nonsense of the ideal of
open society and transparency.
Sanef siad: We have far too many people in Parliament who do not share our beliefs in constitutional democracy and its imperatives of transparency and openness. Some of them have never shared these values and actually once
worked against them.
Yet others who once shared them have since stopped doing so, after betraying the liberation struggle ideals of reconstruction and development. Transparency and press freedom are inimical to their corrupt ways; hence the
attempts to curb the free flow of information.
Why, otherwise, the Protection of Information Bill that would result in journalists being jailed for lengthy periods for doing their jobs, and also undermine the ability of parliamentarians themselves, and elected officials,
to hold the State accountable?
Update: The Tribunal's Out
10th August 2010. Based on article
Proposed media regulations in South Africa have raised fears that the government is trying to control news coverage, drawing comparisons to apartheid-era censorship.
The ruling African National Congress is mulling a Media Appeals Tribunal, while parliament is considering the Protection of Information Bill, which media organisations say would hamper investigative reporting.
The media tribunal, first mooted in 2007, would adjudicate complaints on media reports in a bid to make journalists legally accountable, the ANC said.
Media houses are wary of legal penalties, and say the Press Ombudsman already hears complaints and can require newspapers to print prominent apologies or corrections.
Recent reports on government spending on luxury vehicles have irked the government of President Jacob Zuma, who also figured in a long investigation into a multi-billion-dollar arms deal first reported in South African media.
ANC secretary Gwede Mantashe said a media tribunal was required to deal with the so-called dearth of media ethics in South Africa. The party's general council will thrash out the idea at a meeting next month.