South Africa’s protection of state information bill, known as the “secrecy bill,” revised on June 6, still put nation’s press freedom at risk. Protesters told the Guardian, the country’s media is facing its biggest threat since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Drafted by South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) last November, the secrecy bill would deem the journalists or whistleblowers who distribute state classified information of espionage or hostile activity, putting them into jail from 3 to 25 years.
“Today is a dark day for our young democracy. If passed, this bill will unstitch the very fabric of our constitution. It will criminalise the freedoms that so many of our people fought for. What will you, the members on that side of the house, tell your grandchildren one day?” Lindiwe Mazibuko, the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, stated last November when the bill was voted.
Some people thought the true aim of secrecy bill is to put a gag on investigative journalism.
“This bill is being brought in under the guise of an attempt to protect public safety but it will achieve exactly the opposite by repressing freedom of expression.” according to Nadine Gordimer, South African laureate of Nobel prize for literature.
Siyabonga Cele, the state security minister, has argued “The foreign spies continue to steal our sensitive information in order to advantage their nations at the expense of advancement of South Africa and her people.” He emphasised that “This new bill is not about regulating the media. There is no single mention of the media in this bill. Neither is this bill about covering up corruption … we remain resolute and steadfast against corruption and fraud.”
The new version of secrecy bill provides an exemption to prosecution if the information is used for uncovering criminal activity. The alteration would enable those accused an opportunity to prove they are not disseminating country’s secrets but revealing the crime.
Once secrecy bill is made to law, it will have knock-on effect in the rest of continent and make the press environment worse.
“South Africa is a key player in the region, both economically and politically speaking, ” saidLevi Kabwato of the Media Institute of Southern Africa. “Our key concern is that what happens in South Africa can be used as easy justification for policies and actions in other countries. There is a real danger that these developments will greatly affect and frustrate the regional media law reform drive that seeks to do away with all draconian laws.”
However, some African countries had already severely oppressed the press freedom. Eritrea is described by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as the most censored country in the world.
Image: RT News