NEWS & ANALYSIS

POSIB not designed to stifle press freedom - ANC

Office of Chief Whip says media has been both player and referee in its reporting

PASSING OF INFO BILL BY THE NCOP

1 December 2012

The Office of the ANC Chief Whip in Parliament welcomes the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Thursday, 29 November 2012.

The Bill is a culmination of a rigorous democratic process, which entailed extensive public consultation with a wide range of representatives of our society, public debates and robust engagements amongst political parties in Parliament over the last four years. 

All of the 51 clauses of the Bill have been thoroughly and carefully examined during at least 65 meetings held by the National Assembly (NA) Ad Hoc Committee of the Protection of State Information Bill, and over 40 committee and public consultation meetings conducted by the NCOP Ad Hoc Committee of the Protection of State Information Bill. This brings the number of meetings held over this Bill to over 100, which makes it probably one of the most consulted Bill since the advent of democracy in 1994. 

Significant changes were made during this comprehensive parliamentary process. The Bill has undergone over 123 amendments in the NA while a total of over 800 changes were made by the NCOP. This means that over 900 amendments have been made on this Bill to date, making the Protection of State Information Bill a complete redraft of what was first submitted to Parliament in 2008. 

The thorough consideration and plethora of amendment on this Bill in both Houses of Parliament makes a complete nonsense of the grossly absurd call that it should be scrapped.

We greatly appreciate the effort, dedication and remarkable devotion with which our members in the NCOP Ad Hoc Committee steered this Bill to the quality draft it is today. This indeed sends a clear message to some doubting Thomases who thought the Council will simply rubber stamp the Nation Assembly's version of the Bill. 

We reiterate once again that this is not a Media Bill, as some in the press have inaccurately made it out to be. The Bill neither seeks to regulate the media nor makes mention of the word 'media' in its content. The Bill is also not about covering corruption as its critics often unfairly suggests, but about balancing classification of sensitive state information in the interest of national security with openness and transparency. For this reason key changes were made, including deletion of section 1(4) and strengthening 1(3) to ensure the Bill is firmly in line with the constitutional principles of openness and the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000(Act No. 2 of 2000).

We have also expanded the protection offered by clause 43 to include the key pieces of legislation such as the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, 2004 (Act No. 12 of 2004), Companies Act, 2008 (Act No. 71 of 2008), the Labour Relations Act (Act No. 66 of 1995) and the National Environmental Management Act (Act No. 107 of 1998). The continuing insistence that this Bill is designed to stifle press freedom, despite facts demonstrating otherwise, has not assisted an honest, fair and fruitful public discourse. This situation has seen the media actively assuming the dual role of a reporter and an anti-Bill campaigner - thereby playing referee and player in the same game.

We are fully alive to the fact that, given the diverse nature of our society and our multiparty parliamentary system - it is rare for laws to be a product of unanimous agreement amongst all parties. 

Because this is a Section 75 Bill, the list of recommended changes made in the NCOP will be submitted to the NA for consideration before it passes the Bill for signing by the President.

Statement issued by the Office of the ANC Chief Whip, December 1 2012

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