822. A protestor displays a placard and while putting on a masks protesting against the Bill to introduce the media tribunal outside the Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg yesterday. The protest coincided with the National Press Freedom Day commemorations. Picture: Believe Nyakudjara 19.10.2010

Deliberations on the contentious Protection of Information Bill began on a heated note on Tuesday, with the DA suggesting that another year was needed for the special committee to complete its work on the proposed legislation.

This came as a survey released on Tuesday revealed that most urban South Africans wanted an independent, unbiased media that exposed corruption.

According to the September survey of 2 000 adults living in metro areas, 81 percent said they agreed with the statement: “It is important to have independent TV stations, radio stations and newspapers so we get unbiased news.”

This was higher than a similar survey conducted by TNS Research Surveys four years ago when 73 percent agreed with the statement.

On Tuesday, the special committee debating the information bill met for the first time this year to discuss how the proposed law seeking to classify information could be harmonised with the Promotion of Access to Information Act, which seeks to make information available.

Chairman Cecil Burgess (ANC) opened the meeting by referring to the committee’s programme, scheduled to wind up this month, and pointed out that it would be sitting every day for the rest of this week.

It was not about rushing the matter, he said.

But the DA’s David Maynier challenged Burgess, saying that according to the programme, the bill would be dispensed with by January 27.

“For me, that is rushing matters, this is a fast-track programme… it’s a rush job.”

The lifespan of the ad-hoc committee has been extended several times already, with its latest deadline - set in November - being January 26.

DA MP Dene Smuts said the bill ought to take a long time to process because of “very great issues” like intelligence, which was an increasingly interesting, but also increasingly difficult area.

“We believe that we ought to apply our minds thoroughly.

“In your interaction with the programme committee, surely you are in a position to say to them that ‘It is our view, as a committee, that we wish for an extension on this bill’. That it would take … you choose the time period … but I would say at least this year.”

Burgess hit back.

“I don’t like the idea that we are rushing this bill for ulterior motives,” he said.

“We have spent a considerable amount of time working on this bill. The state law advisers have been back and forth coming to advise us on this bill.

Meanwhile, MPs remain concerned about the authority to classify information.

And the bill still proposes that a person who discloses classified information will be guilty and liable on conviction to imprisonment or a fine. - Political Bureau