Work on South African POIB May Not Conclude This Year

12 November 2010

The chairman of the ad hoc committee in the South African parliament working on the controversial Protection of Information Bill has said Parliament will not likely pass the measure this year, according to media accounts.

The committee held meetings during the week of Nov.  8 to consider amendments.

One report quoted the committee chairman Cecil Burgess as saying they will not finish the
process before year end. “Parliament has got specified time periods in which bills have to be
 completed before it can be debated. We have not been able to meet those time periods,” he explained.

The committee will meet again on Nov.  16. It has asked Parliament to extend
its lifespan, which was set to end next week.

Looking ahead, The Times account said that MPs “are expected to spend coming weeks trying to harmonize the cotentious Protection of Information Bill with liberal post-apartheid laws that guarantee access to information.:

This week, one media report summarized the deliberations of Nov. 9 by saying:  “Ruling party MPs on Tuesday accepted changes to the protection of information bill to protect whistleblowers who disclose state secrets, but baulked at doing the same for the media.”

The News 24 story said opposition lawmakers “reiterated a call for a so-called `public interest”’ defence to be introduced.” It continued:

Such a clause would allow journalists who publish classified information under pain of lengthy prison sentences to argue that they had done so for the public good, and has been advocated by rights groups, lawyers and media houses.

But the idea was slapped down by ANC committee chair Cecil Burgess who said the topic was not up for discussion at this stage.

Consultations Pledged

In another development,  State Security Minister Siybonga Cwele promised Nov. 12  that the media will be consulted when regulations detailing the introduction of the Protection of Information Bill are drafted, according to the Mail & Guardian.

Cwele’s pledge was given at a two-hour meeting with the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) in Pretoria on Friday.

“The minister said editors would be consulted on the drafting of the regulations to ensure that the law is not used to infringe on the work of media specifically,” Cwele said in a statement issued jointly with Sanef.

Further Reading

A critique of the bill by the Centre of Constitutional Rights of the FW de Klerk Foundation appeared in Politics Web Nov. 11

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