On Monday night the National Library of South Africa hosted a media freedom lecture with a keynote address by minister in the presidency Collins Chabane. He suggested that while the nature Protection of State Information Bill should be determined by South African society, the government is not going to be influenced by “marches outside Parliament”. By THERESA MALLINSON.
While Muxe Nkhondo, head of the NLSA board, continually tried to focus Monday night's discussion towards “how to negotiate the tension between freedom of the press, and the integrity of official information”, other issues kept rising to the fore, chief among them the concentrated ownership of the media, as well as its lack of diversity.
To save you from the litany of finger-pointing that much of the evening degenerated into, we'll focus on Chabane's comments that related directly to the Protection of State Information Bill (no longer POIB, but enigmatically labelled Posib). Chabane noted that passing the bill would require 51% of MPs present to vote for it and, considering the ANC's majority in Parliament, it would easily go through as it stands.
“Why do we go through all this painful process?” he then asked. Answering his own question, Chabane stated: “It is because we believe South African society must determine its own future.” This is why the bill has been reopened to public input. According to Chabane, most of the major issues have now been addressed – with the notable exception of the public-interest defence.
However, while Chabane was happy to emphasise the way in which the ANC has opted to hold further debate on Posib, he was not so keen on people marching in the street about the bill. In a sideswipe at the Right2Know campaign (although many audience members also took this as a reference to Julius Malema's economic freedom march), he stated: “If we get into the temptation to enact or not enact legislation because there's a march outside Parliament, we might as well kiss democracy goodbye”.
We'd like to remind him that the same will hold true if legislation is enacted that doesn't pass constitutional muster. FAM
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Photo: The Right2Know march to Parliament in September. Osiame Molefe.