29th January 2005
The National Assembly has approved the controversial Protection of State Information Bill despite widespread opposition and question marks around its constitutionality.
The bill was adopted by majority vote after a division was called by the opposition, and a Democratic Alliance motion to delay the vote failed.
All opposition parties present in the House voted against the measure, while hundreds of black-clad activists protested against it outside the gates of parliament and elsewhere in South Africa.
The outcome of the vote was 229 in favour and 107 against in the 400-member House. There were two abstentions.
The bill still has to be approved by the National Council of Provinces next year, where DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said her party would continue the fight for incisive amendments.
If that process failed to produce a new version, she would petition President Jacob Zuma not to sign the bill but to send it back to parliament.
"But if this bill is signed into law, I will lead an application to the Constitutional Court to have the act declared unconstitutional," Mazibuko threatened.
Like the opposition, media organisations, activists and ANC ally Cosatu have demanded that the bill be redrafted and vowed to challenge it in the Constitutional Court if signed into law in its current form.
All insist that the bill should include a public interest defence, as enshrined in state secrecy legislation in Canada.
Such a defence would enable journalists and others who published classified information under pain of prison to argue in mitigation that they had done so in the public interest.
But State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele reiterated last week that the ANC would not countenance such a "reckless practice".
The bill criminalises possession and publication of classified information and punishes the latter with up to 25 years in prison, if espionage is involved.
It was drafted to replace apartheid-era legislation dating from 1982, but critics say it marks a shameful return to excessive state secrecy less than two decades into democracy.
The editors of 18 daily news publications said in a joint editorial on Tuesday that it was "the first piece of legislation since the end of apartheid that dismantles an aspect of our democracy".
I thought this would be interesting in order to highlight what has been going on in many governments in the past few years since the issues of sites like Wikileaks have been posing to them. It points out some other similar legislation elsewhere being passed under the reason of 'state security' in regards to sensitive information.
Of course this brings up questions over how much power a state authority should have in this regard and whether this can be seen as possible infringement on journalism targeted at abuses, corruption, etc from within the government or elsewhere.
7th December 2003
I think such legislation already exists in many countries, although they were probably drafted during the Cold War. It makes sense to protect some secrets (e.g. military information, identities of under-cover agents etc.) but by protecting these you also always have a means of protecting information that might implicate a government in nasty actions, which isn't really in the interest of the population of those countries.
29th January 2005
MrFancypants;5588610I think such legislation already exists in many countries, although they were probably drafted during the Cold War. It makes sense to protect some secrets (e.g. military information, identities of under-cover agents etc.) but by protecting these you also always have a means of protecting information that might implicate a government in nasty actions, which isn't really in the interest of the population of those countries.
Yeah, like the article points out it is superseding an apartheid era law (1982) that existed under similar conditions. I think the journalists are worried about what the law may be used for, especially in the current corruption problems in South Africa's government, and its dealings with firms. Would it affect the way journalists critical of the current environment publish their material? Especially in the time of government 'leaks' over the internet I'd be more surprised if they didn't do anything about it. But that says a lot about the way things are heading.