The affordable education loan option
Pretoria - There will still be space for press freedom even when the Protection of State Information Bill becomes law, former press ombudsman and director of the Press Council Joe Thloloe said on Wednesday.
“Is the Protection of State Information Bill a threat, or does it mean the end of media freedom as we know it now? The answer is, no. We have a Constitution that protects us,” he said in Pretoria while delivering the third annual Percy Qoboza memorial lecture.
“It is a Constitution agreed on by all South Africans in 1997. In this one round in Parliament we still have lots of fighting space until we get to the Constitutional Court.”
He said media industry roleplayers, and many South Africans, merely wanted a public interest defence clause included in the bill.
“We are asking for one small item in the bill, that there should be a public interest defence built into the bill. We believe that the onus to prove the public interest will be on the person claiming that he did whatever he did because of the public interest.
“That decision, on whether it is in the public interest, should be taken by the courts, not by politicians, not by bureaucrats. That is all we are asking for and we find it difficult to understand why that wasn't inserted when the bill was sent back to Parliament,” said Thloloe.
Earlier this month, lobby groups said Parliament’s plan to review the bill in two days made a mockery of its duty to correct the highly contentious draft law.
The Right2Know campaign said President Jacob Zuma had rightly referred the bill back to the National Assembly on advice that it was unconstitutional.
Opposition parties and activists said the wording of Zuma’s letter to Parliament, outlining what changes he wanted made, was too vague. They had urged him to say whether MPs had the authority to undertake a comprehensive redraft or merely focus on two sections.
The president failed to respond to a written request by the Democratic Alliance for clarity.
Critics' hopes for a comprehensive overhaul dimmed last week when Parliament scheduled the ad hoc committee handling the review to meet on Wednesday, and to finalise its report on the bill on Thursday.
Critics say it still creates the spectre of excessive state secrecy reminiscent of the apartheid era.
The two clauses Zuma mentioned when he announced his decision contain technical errors that, if corrected this week, were unlikely to alter the bill's content and allay those concerns.
The Qoboza memorial lecture is held in conjunction with the University of South Africa. Qoboza was a South African journalist, author, and outspoken critic of the apartheid government. - Sapa