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Death by Paper

Death by Paper

by Mungo Adonis / 06.08.2010

Welcome to 1984, ou boet. Have you heard of the POI? And we’re not talking about those flaming tennis balls hippies like to swing around at trance parties. The Protection of Information Bill, or POI, may sound like an innocuous Thai food ingredient but it’s actually pretty damn sinister. This proposed new legislation by government has been getting media practitioners’ backs up for a while now yet the general public seem to be largely apathetic to government’s attempts to turn back the clock to an era of governmental secrecy and detention without trial. Just ask Sunday Times journalist, Mzilikazi Wa Afrika about his recent brush with the law

See, the government has proposed the POI and an attendant parliamentary media tribunal that can classify, obfuscate and deny any information deemed as contrary to the “national interest”, including “all matters relating to the advancement of the public good” and “the pursuit of justice, democracy, economic growth, free trade, a stable monetary system and sound international relations”. It also covers the “the protection and preservation of all things owned or maintained for the public by the State.” (Exactly. Huh?)

Under these vague directives, the government can impose self-regulating censorship on all kinds of information it deems to be unfit for public consumption, effectively criminalising investigative journalism. If journalists contravene these classifications (the designation of which, by the way, can be delegated to “subordinate staff members”, they are subject to extensive jail time (up to 25 years) without the option of a fine.

If all those quotation marks and newspeak is getting you down, here’s the nutshell: if this Bill passes, freedom of the press is screwed. Society’s ability to “speak truth to power” and keep tabs on government is greatly reduced and we move away from the central pillars of our constitution and open, democratic society. Pretty much everything that Biko, Hani, Sobukwe, Thambo, Sisulu, Mandela and countless others struggled for. At the time of writing, its being thrashed out by the Portfolio Committee but it’s looking scarily close to being greenlit. The implications, of course, will be that government’s actions, commercial and otherwise, will be protected by thick, cotton-woolly layers of legislature. While journalists attempting to expose coruption and the large scale looting of state coffers will be criminalised.

I feel a bit sheepish defending the right to free speech since I only use mine for writing about Lindsay Lohan’s panties. But what if I want to write about Bheki Cele’s Armani briefs and how they, may have, hypothetically, been bought with siphoned funds? Nay! This will not pass! I will defend my right to air Cele’s, and any other politician’s dirty undies, to the death!

Certain publications haven’t been doing the cause any favours with sloppy fact-checking, blatant sensationlism and downright criminal dealings. It is vital as all fuck that the press jack up their game and make sure that they are as morally and legally unassailable as possible. Judging from conversations on talk shows and general water-cooler talk, there seems to be an alarming degree of public support for the bill.

Yes, us media bottom-feeders are usually scummy misanthropes with terrible fashion sense, but the POI represents more than a hate-your-neighbourhood-journo tea party. It is a fundamentally unconstitutional attempt to muzzle the media and block the relay of contentious information to the public. While it represents a good opportunity for us as the press to relook at our practices and regulations, it is also an insidious plan to undermine your, our peeps’, constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of information.

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  1. filipa says:

    is that jeff man?

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  2. Joller says:

    any suggestions on what we can do about this?…any sort of petition going around to voice our concerns to government?

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  3. RiaanP says:

    So how do we stop it?? Where do I sign?

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Mungo Adonis? That’s it. Now I’m convinced this site is being written by three people under a bunch of pseudonyms.

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  5. Andy says:

    Fils… yes! What a legend.

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  6. Andy says:

    Mungo is as real as the Cape Flats are flat…

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  7. Anonymous says:

    sounds like some shit from Atlas Shrugged… Fucking scary…

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  8. Anonymous says:

    And what is so goddamn difficult about writing an article under your own name… really? Take responsibility for your words guys. That’s what this article is all about, isn’t it?

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  9. Bob says:

    At least we’re all gonna get to experience Fascism firsthand. Really good History lesson.

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  10. Ryan says:

    …that coming from Anon.

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  11. Satans caravan says:

    To the person who mentioned something about a petition, you should go into comedy. Seriously. What a riot. You think those wankrags in power give a fuck? All that we can do, as responsible south Africans, is pack up our shit and fucking leave ASAP. Leave this cunt-ry to the generals and the politicians, let them fuck themselves to death with HIV and return when everyone is dead and redevelop this place from scratch. Only solution left I’m afraid. Hitler already had the best idea with the Final Solution, but we have to be original.

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  12. Wit Afrikaner boer seun who loves to hate God says:

    VIVA wa Afrika!

    Jy is n hero!

    You will set us free with the truth!

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  13. RiaanP says:

    @Satans caravan Well, we need to try something. Even if it is futile. Let it not be said that we stood by idly… Personally I hope the editors forum manages to bring down some pressure. We already have RICA, we don’t need this crap too.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    ‘Yes, us media bottom-feeders are usually scummy misanthropes with terrible fashion sense’…

    Don’t flatter yourself. You’re a blogger.

    Also, have you actually read the bill?

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  15. violent boogie says:

    whatever happened to good old-fashioned street protests?

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  16. Roger Young says:


    So if this site wasn’t on wordpress it would be a webzine, not a blog, and if it was on paper we’d be part of the real media. What you’re saying is that if you don’t express yourself on a “legitimate” platform your words are not valid, even if being read by thousands of people. Like your words on this comment board?

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  17. Stumpy says:

    Read this for details on what the bill means


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  18. joe says:

    whats so difficult about writing under your Own name,..

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  19. Eric says:

    @Violent boogie: Street protests, hell, I suggest riots.

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  20. Anonymous says:

    You can sign a petition against this here – http://www.petitiononline.com/FoESA/petition.html – if you want to…

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  21. Jess says:

    I think the best way to make a point to the general public would be to have a news programme that has been restricted by the bill (where the news is basically about puppies and feilds of pretty daisies) and then follow it by the news of the day that actaully matters… maybe then people will see how much this bill will affect their access to information and the ability of the media to hold people in office accountable for their actions… the government has clearly shown over the years that they cannot do it themselves!!!!!

    A point also needs to be made so that people remember when others died fighting for freedom of speech. This bill is a slap in the face of fallen comrades and their families!

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