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SA parliamentary team vows against unconstitutional information bill

 SW Radio Africa 01 November 2019

The South African Parliamentary team dealing with the controversial draft protection of information bill has said it will not approve the bill if it is clearly unconstitutional. (678 Words) - By Alex Bell

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The committee's chairperson Cecil Burgess said last week that no Parliament in the world would be brave enough to pass a bill that it knows is clearly unconstitutional. He said it would be a very incorrect impression of the way the country's parliament works, if the committee is perceived to allow an unconstitutional bill to pass.

The committee has not yet started interacting on the bill on a clause-by-clause basis. But Burgess said that the group has been collecting information and listening to the public. He assured that all concerns raised will be taken into consideration, and it will be debated when the team deals with the clause-by-clause process. The committee will then decide whether any clause or particular definition should be changed or deleted.

These assurances will likely do little to relieve tensions in the media fraternity, who say the bill, dubbed the 'secrecy act', will allow the government in particular to sweep corruption under the carpet. In the proposed amendments, journalists will also face a possible jail term if they report on information that is deemed classified, despite the Freedom of Access of Information defined in the South African bill of rights.

The situation has largely contributed to South Africa's fall down the global media freedom rankings, with the country dropping five places to 38th this year. The rankings are measured on the Reporters without Borders Annual Press Freedom Index. I spoke to the group's Pierre Ambroise about why South Africa has dropped so many places.

Pierre Ambroise: Well it dropped down because of a few things. The first one very basically is that during the World Cup some journalists have been assaulted sometimes in their hotel or while they were covering football games. This of course is not due to the government but our index measures widely the question of press freedom and when in a country, cases of violations of press freedom occur like this we do count these violations. So this is the first thing. But more important even is the behaviour of the ANC authorities towards the press and if you look at the past month, Julius Malema who is the leader of the youth league at the ANC basically expelled the BBC correspondent from a press conference and then the government was pushing to adopt two projects that would endanger press freedom which are a media appeals tribunal and also a reform of the press law. So the situation of press freedom in South Africa is still good of course and the tradition of respect for press freedom didn't disappear but the drop of five places is there to show that there is a danger and that freedom of the press should still be defended in this country.

Alex Bell: You have already mentioned there of course the proposed Freedom of Information bill that I know has the media fraternity in South Africa quite worried. Should this five place drop come as a warning that this kind of action against the press is not, is really, really not acceptable?

PA: Of course. I mean the thing in South Africa which is very satisfactory is that the press is very active and very, let's say vibrant and also that the system of self-regulation is a model for Africa so this is why when we see plans like the ANC wants nowadays being there and being able to be adopted it is a warning and it shows that both the international community but also the journalists locally should always be attentive and should always be able to react in order to defend their rights.

AB: Well that was Pierre Ambroise from Reporters Without Borders.

Extract taken from 'Southern Africa Focus', produced and presented by Alex Bell for SW Radio Africa.

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