University of the Witwatersrand opposes South African government's censorship attempts - Statement on the "Secrecy Bill"
23 November 2011
"The University of the Witwatersrand notes with concern the decision by Parliament and the ruling African National Congress to pass the "Secrecy Bill", which we believe stands as a deep threat to the fundamental principles enshrined in our Constitution.
The Protection of State Information Bill may be a necessary replacement for apartheid-era legislation, but in its current form would obstruct the access to information citizens need to ensure transparent and accountable governance. The Bill entrusts the power of classification, and the avenue of appeals against classification, to those who might benefit from the obscurity provided by classification. The Bill allows for ‘national interest’ to be invoked in justification of classification, but provides sufficient latitude of interpretation of what constitutes the ‘national interest’ to allow unscrupulous use of this measure. It remains silent on the 'public interest'. The current formulation of this Bill and the heavy penalties it mandates would impede both the right of the public to legitimate freedom of information and the intellectual enquiry that is the essence of academic work.
The proposal for a Media Appeals Tribunal, currently under consideration by the ANC, might enable direct State suppression of the freedom of expression. Accountable to Parliament, which is constituted overwhelmingly by the ruling party, the Tribunal could undermine the media’s necessary role in informing society. The ruling party’s antagonistic attitude to the print media has been illustrated by the recent public eviction of a journalist from a media conference and – very disturbingly – by the arrest and detention of a journalist at the order of a politician. Even in the absence of such provocation the proposed tribunal would represent an unacceptable intrusion into media freedom.
Taken together, the two initiatives attack key principles that underpin a democracy – access to information and freedom of speech – and threaten this country’s widely admired constitutional order. The University expresses its deep concern at the implications of these measures for civil liberties and the pursuit of intellectual enquiry, and insists that, in their current form, they be abandoned."
Read Wits' 2010 statement on the Protection of Information Bill and the Media Tribunal Process
The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, together with the Wits School of Law, has been engaged in processes of dialogue around the Protection of State Information Bill since its first emergence as a draft piece of legislation in 2008. Read an analysis of the Bill’s remaining flaws –