‘Struggle for bill not over’

2011-06-25 09:52 The Protection of Information Bill should be entirely scrapped or re-worked to reflect “pre-2008 thinking”, the Southern African Freelancers’ Association (Safrea) said today.

“Safrea views the latest response by government as no more than an initial step in the right direction,” spokesperson Helen Ueckermann said in a statement.

“We believe that more needs to be done than the scrapping of the three clauses that government has proposed.”

The ANC bowed to pressure by activists, academics, journalists and former ministers yesterday by scrapping three clauses in the bill to bring the legislation in line with the Constitution.

It agreed to scrap mandatory prison sentences for possessing and publishing secret information and to limit the power to classify to state security bodies.

It had previously sought to extend this power to all 1 001 existing organs of state, prompting fears of a return to apartheid-era state secrecy and an onslaught on media freedom.

The ANC also agreed to appoint a retired judge to hear any appeal to a refusal for access to classified information. Previously it placed this power with the state security minister.

Ueckermann said that these concessions were not enough, as free access to information, especially that relating to government, was the foundation upon which a free media and society was built.

Safrea recommended that the bill not curtail media freedom in the least.

MP Llewellyn Landers, who has led the ANC’s arguments in the committee drafting the bill, spelled out the ANC’s revised position a day after Parliament extended the deadline for the completion of the bill by three months to September 23.

He told reporters there had been growing unease about the bill within the ANC in recent weeks.

In a statement, the ANC said the proposed changes would help meet the “difficult and competing demands of national security within a rights-based, constitutional democracy such as ours”.