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Johannesburg - South Africa's media needs to be protected, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said on Friday.
“The media helps to keep democracy alive, though they sometimes get it wrong,” she told an Association of Independent Publishers’ conference in Johannesburg.
“What a sad day it would be that corruption were to continue because there was no media to inform us of it. Let us protect the media.”
Madonsela said it was society's duty to protect the independence of the media, and indicated that the media helped her office perform its core functions.
“The media is the most effective accountability mechanism, as in the world it watches closely over those that exercise power in public platforms.”
The Public Protector also praised President Jacob Zuma's decision to refer the Protection of State Information Bill back to Parliament as a wise move.
“We had always indicated that there were still problems with the bill and that the best way forward would've been to send it to the Constitutional Court for advice,” Madonsela said on the sidelines of an Association of Independent Publishers conference in Johannesburg.
The decision was “progressive”, and hopefully the remaining problems with the bill would be sorted out, she said.
On Thursday, Zuma announced he would not sign the bill into law because it was incoherently drafted and therefore unconstitutional.
“It is my opinion that the bill would not pass constitutional muster,” Zuma said.
The announcement was widely welcomed by critics who have campaigned against the legislation for years.
The president singled out two sections of the bill as problematic, but his office indicated that a letter sent to Speaker Max Sisulu mandates lawmakers to revise the contentious official secrets bill as a whole.
Zuma mentioned Section 45, which in its current form criminalises the improper classification of state information and provides for prison sentences of five to 15 years, depending on the level of wrongful classification. It notably makes it a crime to classify information to conceal corruption or influence a tender process.
Section 42 purports to deal with failure to report possession of a classified document but refers back to an earlier section that sets out the maximum classification period, as stipulated in the National Archives Act.
Zuma was pressed by the media to explain in full why he found these parts of the bill problematic, but he declined.