/ 22 October 2008

Sanef welcomes withdrawal of information Bill

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on Wednesday welcomed a special parliamentary committee’s decision to withdraw the draft Protection of Information Bill.

The ad-hoc portfolio committee on intelligence had reached an impasse on the proposed treatment of private intelligence companies in the Bill and decided that too much work needed to be done on the Bill, and the time left in the parliamentary term was insufficient to enable this to be achieved.

”Consequently it has withdrawn the Bill but plans to introduce it in the new Parliament next year,” Sanef said in a statement.

Sanef’s objections to the Bill were that the provisions were too broad, related the protection of information to the national interest, rather than national security interests, and encompassed practically every conceivable activity or conduct under the broad mantle of protecting the national interest.

It paid scant attention to the constitutional ethos that South Africa should strive to be an open, transparent and accountable society, and that classification of documents as secret should be described in the narrowest of terms.

The legislation should be fashioned to pursue the principles of the Promotion of Access to Information Act by protecting the right to the widest possible access to information, and where there was a requirement for preventing disclosure of information, this should be on the narrowest of grounds, clearly defined with set limitations on the extent of secrecy.

”The Bill should also place high value on the disclosure of information in the public interest as distinct from the far more limited concept of the national interest.”

Though welcoming the Bill’s withdrawal, Sanef believed that before it was presented again to Parliament, there should be extensive consultation with the media to ensure that the broad principles outlined above were adhered to. — Sapa