Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bill Not Passed Yet But Government Already Accused of Refusing to Release ‘Classified’ Information

Tshepo Tshabalala

Print and Broadcast journalists alike will have to keep up with the changing media landscape if the ANC get their way with the proposed Protection of Information Bill. Getting justice will become a challenge.

In an article published by “The Times” newspaper, it is reported that the ‘State Security Agency will not let Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier have a copy of a presentation it made to a parliamentary committee earlier this year and at a meeting that was open to the media’.

The presentation, made by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and a senior member of the SSA, dealt with the controversial new Protection of Information Bill.

For journalists the classification of information under the proposed bill has broad and unfeasible definitions which allow the classification of commercial information as confidential. Another disturbing matter is that information of private entities that are in government possession could also be classified as confidential. When this information is termed confidential, the journalist no longer has access to this information.

A colossal challenge would be if government had damaging information with repercussions regarding the nation, which could possibly have national interest, the information can be classified as confidential. The state officials are the ones who determine whether a document is classified confidential or not. This would mean that it would be impossible for the media to publish anything regarding corruption and maladministration within governmental departments.

Minister Cwele refused to make hard copies of the presentation because the document was ‘classified’. With the proposed Protection of Information Bill still in the pipeline and not made law yet, a minister has certainly failed to comprehend their own jargon. The presentation was made to the media and an open parliamentary committee meeting. It seems like the proposed protection of information bill has more to do with politics than anything else.

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