DA files complaint over state’s info bill ads

Published Apr 3, 2012


The DA has lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority over a government ad campaign that suggests the Protection of State Information Bill is intended to secure citizens’ sensitive personal information such as birth certificates and driving licences.

DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said she would also write to National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu and the chairman of the National Council of Provinces, Johannes Mahlangu, to “raise my concerns about government launching a media offensive on a matter that is currently before Parliament” which, she said, showed a “clear disregard for the separation of powers”.

While the controversial bill deals mostly with setting out matters such as what state information may be classified, who may classify it and penalties for disclosing classified information, the Department of State Security appears to have based its media campaign on the definition in the bill of “valuable information”.

This is information “whose unlawful alteration, destruction or loss is likely to deny the public or individuals of a service or benefit to which they are entitled”.

The bill says valuable information “warrants a degree of protection and administrative control and must be handled with due care and only in accordance with authorised procedures”.

Mazibuko said the department’s focus in its campaign on a “narrow and largely irrelevant aspect of the bill”, while ignoring its more controversial implications, was “disingenuous”.

“This propaganda campaign is an obvious attempt by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele’s department to misrepresent the bill,” Mazibuko said.

She said the campaign appeared to have breached the ASA’s code on three counts:

l By basing its ads on a narrow section of the bill and downplaying significant concerns and appealing to emotion, the department was in breach of section 2.2, dealing with honesty, which says: “Advertisements should not be so framed as to abuse the trust of the consumer or exploit his lack of experience or knowledge or his credulity.”

l By unjustifiably “fuelling and exploiting” legitimate concerns over identity theft, the campaign seemed to fall foul of section 3.1, which says: “Advertisements should not without justifiable reason play on fear.”

l The television ads appeared to breach sections 4.1 and 4.2, which say adverts should not contain any statement likely to mislead, directly or by implication, through omission, ambiguity, inaccuracy or exaggerated claims.

Mazibuko said the campaign exaggerated the bill’s effect in dealing with company and personal information, but failed to mention its more significant potential for “hiding embarrassing information and preventing the media from both uncovering and reporting on corruption”.

While the security of the country and its citizens was “indeed a priority”, Mazibuko said this should not be used “to manipulate citizens”.

State Security Department spokesman Brian Dube said it was the government’s mandate to educate the public on its programmes.

“Various surveys have indicated low levels of awareness as regards the bill,” he said.

Cape Argus

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