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Sanef’s response to President Zuma’s announcement on the Protection of State Information Bill

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) welcomes President Jacob Zuma’s decision to refer the Protection of State Information Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration.

We agree with the remarks made by the president today that certain sections of the Bill are irrational and unconstitutional. The Bill criminalises the possession and dissemination of classified state information even if such information is in the public interest.

Sanef has consistently argued for the inclusion of a public interest defence clause to protect journalists and whistle blowers.

Sanef is concerned about the provisions that allow for broad classification of information, including that which has nothing to do with security of the state, and the delegated authority to undefined state officials the power to classify information.

These provisions should be amended so that they are in line with the transparent governance system envisaged in the Constitution.

Although the president cited a few problematic provisions to explain his decision, Sanef believes Parliament has a opportunity to reconsider other provisions which may be unconstitutional.

Sanef previously called on the president to refer the Bill to the Constitutional Court before he signs it into law.  Last month, lawyers representing Sanef and Print and Digital Media SA – a body that represents media owners – wrote to the president, urging him to send the Bill back to Parliament.

The president’s remarks suggest that he has listened to concerns raised by Sanef and other interested parties.

We welcome the president’s decision to reject the Bill in its current form. The latest developments will give our lawmakers another opportunity to fix this piece of legislation that has the potential to seriously undermine media freedom in South Africa.

Sanef will continue to participate in efforts to craft a Bill that promotes transparency and openness in the conduct of state affairs.

12 September 2013