10 August 2010

Civil Society Initiatives on the Protection of Information Bill

Civil society, with the full support of SAHA though it's Freedom of Information Programme, has circulated a joint statement on 02 August 2010 to protest the government's creation of the Protection of Information Bill. The statement outlines the key concerns of civil society at large, as well as the demands being made by stakeholders to try and improve the Bill. The preamble of the Bill states that:

"A responsive and accountable democracy that can meet the basic needs of our people is built upon transparency and the free flow of information. The gains of South Africans' struggle for freedom are threatened by the Protection of Information Bill (the Secrecy Bill) currently before Parliament. We accept the need to replace apartheid-era secrecy legislation. However, this Bill extends the veil of secrecy in a manner reminiscent of that same apartheid past. This Bill fundamentally undermines the struggle for whistleblower protection and access to information. It is one of a number of proposed measures which could have the combined effect of fundamentally undermining the right to access information and the freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution."

The statement can be read in full here. Besides this being issued, a petition and discussion group have also been created (the details of which are also contained in the statement). To sign the petition, send the name of your organisation and the details of a contact person to Hopolang Selebalo at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), who is co-ordinating the collection of signatures, at hselebalo@issafrica.org. Note that the deadline for signatures is 27 August 2010.

A number of meetings and discussion groups have also been arranged in order to facilitate further discussions and address the different debates. On 11 August 2010, the Institute for Security Studies will be hosting a meeting for civil society at 11h00 at the ISS office in Woodstock, Cape Town. Anyone from civil society wishing to attend should confirm their attendance at hselebalo@issafrica.org.

Amandla Publishers/AIDC will be jointly hosting, with the Mail & Guardian, a series of Critical Thinking Forums between the 11th August and the 1st September 2010 in Johannesburg, Durban, Grahamstown and Cape Town. The first is scheduled to be held on 11 August at 18h00 for 18h30 in Milpark, Johannesburg. Anyone wishing to attend should confirm their attendance with Tamarin Marshman at on 011 250 7425 or email tamarinm@mg.co.za .

International support for civil society has also been growing, largely due to SAHA alerting advocates through the Freedom of Information Advocates Network. To date, 29 international organisations have expressly lent their support through the Network to the civil society statement.

Society at large should take note of these events with a sense of urgency, as Enver Daniels (the state law advisor ushering through the Bill) has noted that Parliament is hoping to have it made legislation by September 2010. To learn further about the central debates on the issue a collection of articles have been collated by Amandla publishing and can be accessed here for further reference.