Public hearings on the South African Weather Service Amendment Bill continue in Cape Town on Wednesday.
They are being conducted by the parliamentary portfolio committee on water and environmental affairs.
Draft legislation to extend the operation of the South African Weather Service (Saws) to provide air quality information and issue air pollution warnings, was tabled at Parliament in October.
According to a memorandum attached to the measure, it will become “an offence for any person to issue a severe weather or air pollution related warning without the written permission” of Saws.
The existing Act carries no such provision.
Limiting freedom of expression
During the hearing on Tuesday, the FW de Klerk Foundation said the clause was unconstitutional because it limited freedom of expression.
A citizen should be entitled to issue a legitimate warning of severe weather without permission from the weather service, it submitted.
It was a constitutional right to impart information and ideas, the foundation argued.
Television channels e.tv and e.sat TV said a weather warning would constitute the exercise of academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
They said the only limitation to freedom of expression was if something propagated war, incited violence or advocated hatred with incitement to cause harm.
Clause 30A of the Bill prohibits the issue of severe weather warnings without permission and criminalises the supply of false or misleading information about the weather service, or an intentional or negligent act which negatively affects the organisation.
The clause was a bone of contention for many parties, which described it as vague.
In a submission by e.tv and e.sat TV, legal representatives Steven Budlender and Nick Ferreira said the terms “severe weather warning” and “issuing” were not clear.
The Centre for Environmental Rights took issue with the permission process.
The Society of Master Mariners South Africa said the clause contradicted the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, a treaty to which it was contracted. — Sapa