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'Secrecy' Bill unsafe for democracy, says Sanef

Staff Reporter

Sanef has again criticised the Protection of Information Bill, saying it was a threat to democracy and does not comply with constitutional freedom.

The Protection of State Information Bill remains unsafe for democracy, despite important improvements, the South African National Editors’ Forum said on Friday.

“Its lack of any public interest defence, draconian sentencing regime, broadness of application, and excessive shielding from scrutiny of the intelligence services are of grave concern,” Sanef said in a statement after its 2011 annual general meeting in Cape Town.

“Sanef will continue to oppose the enactment of the Bill and will take legal action, if necessary, to ensure that it ultimately complies with constitutional principles of free speech and open democracy,” it said.

The Bill will be put to the vote in the National Assembly this month.

It was finalised on September 2 after a year of wrangling in the legislature, with the ANC voting down opposition amendments to include a public interest defence.

At the time, activists, the media and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) said they were ready to take the matter to the Constitutional Court, because the final draft placed excessive limitations on the freedom of expression.

On Friday, Sanef said editors were also concerned about efforts by the portfolio committee on communications to rush an indaba on media diversity and transformation “styled as a prelude to the consideration of statutory press regulation in the form of a media appeals tribunal”.

“Sanef was not invited to the indaba, and notes that the limited range of stakeholders who were invited were given just days to prepare.

“‘Consultation’ of this kind is no consultation at all,” Sanef said, adding that it would write to the speaker of Parliament protesting against the “cavalier” handling of the crucial matter.

Elected at the AGM were Cape Argus editor Gasant Abarder, as deputy chairman; Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes as media freedom subcommittee chair; and City Press editor Ferial Haffajee as diversity and ethics subcommittee chair.

Sanef also congratulated stalwart Raymond Louw on being named an International Press Institute press freedom hero.

The Sanef-Wrottesley Award was presented to Hopewell Radebe for his extraordinary commitment towards the achievement of the forum’s goals.

Radebe is Sanef’s Gauteng convenor and agriculture editor at Business Day.

The Nat Nakasa Award was not made, but a special mention was made of the work of South African photojournalist Anton Hammerl, who was killed while reporting on the war in Libya.—Sapa

The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill came as no surprise, raising the threat to media freedom. View our special report.

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