“Scared journalists are bad journalists. And with bad journalists, you get a bad democracy.” This was the response on Monday of Swedish Supreme Court Judge Göran Lambertz during a debate in Cape Town on access to information and the Protection of State Information Bill.

Judge Lambertz warned that the bill did not contain sufficient protection for journalists and whistle-blowers.

Specifically, he argued that the penalties and punishments contained in the bill – with some offences triggering sentences of up to 25 years in prison – would have a “chilling effect” on journalists and potential whistle-blowers, and make them less inclined to “examine those in power”.

And while recognising the need for some state secrecy – such as the location of sensitive military systems – the judge suggested that the bill erred on the side of secrecy.

He also expressed surprise that the bill contained “no privilege for the media” and that there was “nothing (in the bill) to ensure that newspapers and other media can publish confidential information – even when it is very, very important to get it out in the open”.

The debate, hosted by the Institute for Security Studies, took place as the National Council of Provinces prepared to host public consultations on the bill, starting in Cape Town and George on Tuesday. - Political Bureau