Secrecy Bill: blessing in disguise?

“The Secrecy Bill was a real gift,” said activist Mark Weinberg from Right2Know, a campaign which formed in reaction to The Protection of State and Information Bill.

He was speaking at a seminar at the Stellenbosch Journalism Department, to commemorate World Press Freedom day, on Friday 2 May.

“This bill was so outrageous and remains so outrageous. It really fired up the South African population and made them realise how central transparency and freedom of expression is to our democracy.”

Yet the bill is not the problem, it is “simply a symptom of a deep-rooted one”. Weinberg thanks securocrats for this “gift”: “People from the ruling party, who look for undemocratic solutions to our problems, people who have a vested interest in power that is not transparent.”

The other guest speakers who formed part of the esteemed panel were Jo van Eeden, editor of Volksblad and Tim du Plesis, Media24’s head of Afrikaans media.

Media Freedom after 20 years of democracy was the topic being discussed.

Van Eeden stated that “press freedom did not come cheap and should not be taken for granted. It is the right that protects all other rights.”

“We have more press freedom now then 20 years ago, yet if we don’t nurture it we won’t have it in the future.”

Du Plesis maintained Van Eeden’s sentiments, yet went on to say that “the digital revolution will make it difficult to control information.”

Doing so or even attempting to do so is “unjust, immoral, and unsustainable, it will wither and die like the Apartheid regime. Government is too inept to suppress media freedom.”

Rego Mamogale, a journalism student who was in attendance, asked what these opponents plan to do should the ill be passed.   

Weinberg responded: “The bill is ready for signing on the president’s desk. Yet we are armed with the best legal team in South Africa and are prepared to take this issue to the constitutional court.”

Doctor Simphiwe Sesanti who also attended the seminar was not impressed that The Protection of State and Information Bill was frequently referred to as The Secrecy Bill.

“We are entitled to our interpretations, comments and opinions, but to rename and misname things is arrogant and wrong. We claim to be journalists who strive for accuracy.”

The South-African government persists to defend this controversial bill. In a press release they claim that The Protection of State and Information Bill is “aimed at protecting and promoting the national security of the Republic.”

“This Bill is not regulating the media. There is no single mention of the media in this Bill.”

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