Most media purged from info bill public hearings

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Eighteen organisations and individuals have been shortlisted to make oral presentations to the parliamentary ad hoc committee dealing with the Protection of State Information Bill when four days of public hearings kick off on March 27.

But an otherwise collegial atmosphere in the hot and crowded committee room became strained on Wednesday when ANC MPs insisted that only two “media-related” submissions be included on the shortlist.

Other organisations seemed to be excluded on the seemingly arbitrary basis that their names contained the words “media” or “press”.

Consequently, the following submissions were not considered for the shortlist: Media24 journalist Cera-Jane Catton; former editor-in-chief of The Star newspaper Harvey Tyson; Professor Jane Duncan, chair of the Media and Information Society (Highway Africa); Marian Pike, lecturer in media studies and public relations management at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology; Print Media SA; and the Media Institute of SA.

Instead, it was decided the media would be represented by two organisations, the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA). The MMA, however, does not represent a media sector, but is a watchdog NGO that monitors ethical and fair journalism for the advancement of human rights issues.

Cope MP Dennis Bloem reminded ANC MPs that “members of the media are also citizens of this country” and urged the ANC to allow more media-related submissions, but to no avail.

The DA also failed to convince ANC MPs to shortlist Duncan’s submission, which proposes 35 changes to the current bill.

This includes a call for the insertion of a public-interest defence clause to protect journalists and whistle-blowers from prosecution if they reveal classified information in the public interest.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told Sapa on Wednesday that he would personally argue the union federation’s cause at the public hearings.

The Right2Know (R2K) campaign, a coalition of more than 400 NGOs which has been at the forefront of public opposition to the bill, nearly missed the cut when one ANC MP said the organisation would bring nothing new to the debate. However, a unified opposition voice in support of R2K saw the ANC relent.

Significantly, all 18 shortlisted submissions – and nearly all of the 259 written submissions received by the committee – do not support the bill in its current form.

Submissions from the following individuals and organisations were shortlisted for oral presentation:

Advocate Thuli Madonsela; George Bizos SC, on behalf of the Legal Resources Centre; the SA Human Rights Council; the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory at the Nelson Mandela Foundation; Cosatu; Webber Wentzel on behalf of Sanef; the Helen Suzman Foundation; Lizette Burger on behalf of the Law Society of SA; advocate Mike Pothier on behalf of the SA Catholic Bishops’ Conference; Kobus van Rooyen on behalf of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies; Alison Tilley on behalf of the Open Democracy Advice Centre; David Lewis on behalf of Corruption Watch; W Aroun on behalf of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA; Reverend Ivan Booth from the Diakonia Council of Churches; William Bird for MMA; Dr Jeffrey Mabelebele on behalf of Higher Education South Africa; Murray Hunter from R2K: and Mark Weinberg on behalf of the Alternative Information and Development Centre. – The Star


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