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Protection of Information Bill

Classified and Pacified

by Lynsey Chutel, illustration by Jason Bronkhorst / 01.09.2010

Ferial Haffajee looks like she’s about to bitchslap Jackson Mthembu! The media finally meets the ANC national spokesperson over the proposed Protection of Information Bill. This is the SABC’s attempt at an unbiased current affairs debate. But what it turns into is an opportunity for Mthembu to blatantly lie about the biggest threat to media and public freedom in South Africa. He swears the proposed bill won’t lead to censorship or the arrest of journalists. Even Zuma recently said commentators are over-reacting. But tell that to Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika and the pack of cops who dragged him to an Mpumulanga jail.

So what exactly is the ANC’s problem? Infighting at the government’s lapdog, officially referred to as the national broadcaster, has seen controversial, ballsy TV replaced with a string of lifestyle shows with B-list celebs that would cover the opening of an envelope if it happened on a red carpet. In the meantime, the news and current affairs department is trapped in the crossfire of Mbeki banning Zuma, then Zuma banning Mbeki and a whole lot of sticky editorial gagging which is about to get worse.

An email attachment called “Media – Transformation, Ownership and Diversity” has been doing the rounds lately. In it the ANC pats itself on the back for its “success” at the SABC! Its next muzzle project is clearly the print media.

While the rest of the world worries about the death of print thanks to fast and free online news, South African newspapers are about to be strangled by our own democracy! A paranoid government with corrupt tender deals to hide is a far bigger threat than the internet.

While we cringed and laughed at Malema’s attempt to humiliate BBC journalist Jonah Fisher, we missed the broader point. Julius was sending a message. No more free press in an open society. A few months down the line paranoia could very well become law. The Protection of Information Bill has morphed from a suggestion at the 2007 Polokwane conference to what could become a series of draconian laws. The brainchild of the Ministry of State Security, the bill was first tabled in 2008 because our already limited media “has more freedom than anyone else” according to Mthembu.

Because “some media reports don’t go down well with the ANC” (again Mthembu), if the bill becomes law, government will have the right to classify information at will. “Classified” will mean anything the government says it does. Hotel romps with taxpayer money? Classified. Tender deals awarded to a widely-girthed politician who owns four different ghost corporations? Classified.

Do journo student kids mortgaging themselves on tuition know what they’re letting themselves in for? That being a vigilant writer speaking truth to power may soon come with (SAT) – specially added jail time!

Publishing ‘classified’ information could get you up to 25 years. A life sentence. The average rapist, if convicted at all, gets around fifteen years. If the ‘Secrets Bill’ goes into effect journalists who release “classified information” will be locked up if they can’t prove their work has clear cut “public interest”. The State will decide what constitutes “public interest” of course! Sources, responsible for all those leaks that expose government corruption, will get three years. Bang. The added jail time is sure to dry up this vital information chain.

And just in case independent internal professional regulation of the media is not enough, the ANC is proposing a self-appointed tribunal to curb your journalistic enthusiasm. This bright idea was sparked in Polokwane in 2007, when media reportage of the ANC’s unholy anointing of a new leader (by Stalinist diktat) didn’t get the kind of coverage approved of by Africa’s oldest democratic movement. And of course that painting (the controversial artless one with the dead Mandela) added dung to the tribunal fire.

This is bleak. We’ve already given up on the SABC. The few decent newspapers left are becoming an endangered species. Bitch all you want about the media (journalists/ vultures/ drunkards), they go where you don’t want to. They shine a light. They keep audiences informed and governments in check.

Unless the Secrets Bill becomes law.

Illustration © Jason Bronkhorst.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    funny this is on mahala, where no government offical dares to go…have this in print and check the reaction. Good piece for the pompous few, but to keep in good spirits FREE PRESS…check the pun

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  2. Rook says:

    Anon you’re missing something… it’s not about the government reading this… people need to get motivated and tell the government what to do… they’re our public servants godammit

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  3. boom says:

    i’ve said this elsewhere on this site and got blasted for it…but i’ll say it again…the only time those cunts will understand anything is when they’re staring down the barrel of a gun. keep deluding yourselves into thinking that there are other ways to bring them around. there aren’t….the scorpions, zuma, schaik, travelgate, tenders, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. they’ll ignore “us” on this just as they ignored “us” on all the other fucked up things they have pulled.

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  4. Rook says:

    Boom that’s just fatalistic thinking man… if you think it’ll end with the gun and that we’re fucked, why don’t you leave?

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Rook, I do believe I have missed nothing. the civil servants have been trying “to tell the government” what to do for the past couple of weeks. where has it gotten them? you cannot speak to someone who does not listen. Why would the government care to listen to a bunch of ‘drunkards’ as the journalist is infamously known. we are definately taking strides as a country, walking towards our past. but then again, mainstream media has for far too long been sleeping with the bureacrats. they must treat their own herpes

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  6. Pulse of the Maggots says:

    Terminal apathy y’all. It’s happening globally. HAS happened globally forever.

    boom’s been listening to too much Rage Against the Machine. What changes have all Zach’s violent lyrics brought about?


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  7. Rook says:

    Anon you still missing things. Civil servants and public servants ARE the government… it’s us, the people, who need to get up and kick this bill in it’s balls. Pulse of the Maggots understands that the issue is around apathy – the fatalistic apathy so aptly summed up by Boom. As for you… i think you’re in the same boat, but only a little bit more confused.

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  8. nissim says:

    nice writing! hope Lynsay doesn’t get picked up in the middle of the night by apparatchniks driving shiny black 4x4s

    This is some fuggen scary shit – we ALL have a lot to fear.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    funny you should say Rook, i am a journalist, a journalist that does not know the difference between civil and public peasants. I’m also very confused when you say “us” the people, and by telling me that i am taking boat rides with these confused people and worse that i am specifically the most confused out of them.

    My point was that its fresh as spring to discuss this topic here, but does it get out or stay in the hush, hush of our abstract thought adorning minds…

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  10. Dexter says:

    The Government is a service to the country’s people . This isn’t what I would call democratic , this sucks camel dick . It’s unacceptable . The Journo’s are seen as nosey bliksems sometimes but they do tell us the things that are important . The okes that are for this bill don’t know what they are letting themselves into , if they do put a clad on SA’s media it won’t be for more than a few years This country has too many people that will stand up for what is right and push this bill a toffie . BAM ! It’ll be impossible to keep all their secrets a secret if you know what I mean .

    Without the media , who the hell will keep the government in control??

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  11. boom says:

    i don’t necessarily think that it will end with a gun, but it is certainly a possibility. we live in a pretty crazy fucking country. to think otherwise is to have your head in the sand.
    as much as it would be nice to see a few heads lopped off, it’s not something that i would wish to happen.
    to clarify my comment: what i meant was that i don’t see any change coming by engaging with the clowns in government…you’d have more luck engaging with (and understanding) your pet cat…they have a terminal inability to enagage with anyone who disagrees with them. they have proved that on countless occasions and yet we still sit here in cyberspace bleating on about how “this time” they’re not going to get away with it. Well, they are getting away from it. So my point was, they will continue to get away with it until someone or some group goes ‘BOOM”, enough of your kak.

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  12. Bunny Gatsby says:

    The Enemies Of A Free Press Are The Enemies Of Freedom

    Finish en klaar.

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  13. Rook says:

    So how do we get young people to take this seriously and out on the streets in big numbers saying enough is enough!

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  14. Tim. says:

    Visit RIGHT TO KNOW at http://www.r2k.org.za/

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  15. boom says:

    ah yes, the petition. that bullshit device designed to give you the illusion that you’re actually doing something. worked quite well in getting them to stop disbanding the scorpions didn’t it tim?

    @boom, not sure. i struggle to see any alternative to using violence. i think the only other way to stop them would be international prssure but i don’t think the world gives a shit now that apartheid has been beaten.

    what people need to start doing is stop seeing them as “government”. that conjures up the vision of a large, nebulous organisation that is practically unbeatable. what they really are is a small group of criminals, numbering a few thousand, who are raping, pillaging and destroying a country that belongs to everyone. to stand around watching them do it is just as criminal. civil disobedience is a good place to start…i don’t know…imagine if all the taxpayers withheld their taxes, big business got onboard too…that would force them to take their noses out of the trough and pay attention

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  16. boom says:

    sorry, meant @rook

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  17. John Bate says:

    Petition…hahaha….Adolf Hitler called it a plebiscite.
    …all Governments prioritize things in an irrational manner, but on a sliding scale of increasing lunacy and arrogance the ANC Goverment must surely rank in the upermost echelons, matched only by the UK’s former Blair regime which had the BBC so far up its ARSE and towing its ‘party line’ that it made a mockery of media freedom and personal liberties in a fashion analogous to that which is occuring in your troubled country….Death to Nanny-State governance….

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  18. Anonymous says:

    Totally agree with Boom’s sentiment regarding “the petition. that bullshit device designed to give you the illusion that you’re actually doing something” – in fact I think Mahala had something to say about such hollow “activism” a while ago in this piece – http://www.mahala.co.za/culture/click-click-activism/

    Wake the f*ck up people, we have the most advanced constitution in the world, and we’re on the verge of letting a bunch of corrupt crooks take it away from us.

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  19. vuyo seripe says:

    I heart Jason’s drawings.

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  20. Jason says:

    You made my day, vuyo. Thank you.

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  21. alexd says:

    You’re really nailed it here, Lynsey! As an independent writer in this country, I’ve already been feeling the crunch for more than a year. Print avenues for independent thought in this country are becoming rapidly extinct. And there is a value to print that can’t be claimed by digital. Digital has its manifold values, but print has a different catalysing power that has largely been shut down in this country. When I say shut down, I mean debates that fall outside of the strictly mediated, straightjacketed channels for public discourse that privilege a certain depiction of politics that is very much within a bi-polar nationalist agenda (politics only within a particular political lens)…. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really appreciate this article. You’ve written it as I see it. And the role of lifestyle journalism in all of this can’t be ignored either. Top Billing is standing in for everything else. What a fucking crime on our minds!

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  22. alexd says:

    Uh, that would be ‘you’ve’ — ‘you have’ really nailed it here!

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  23. naren says:

    I agree with PotM …that’s the starting point ! it goes beyond SA

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  24. Ratshit says:

    These may not be the corect words of the old saying “Total power totally corrupts” but in this case it reminds me of the old “Who” song…………….. “Meet the new boss, same as the old Baas”

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  25. Schmatthew Schmeriksen says:

    i don’t think we should really be surprised at the current goings-on. “Meet the new boss, same as the old Baas” – of course this is true. These are PEOPLE – imperfect, self-serving, selfish – much the same as the people that constituted the National Party, doing what is expedient for their purposes, and always behind an aegis of morality. (The stated motives are always disingenuous, needless to say.)

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  26. snapper says:

    what ‘controversial, ballsy TV’?

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  27. muerte says:

    special assignment, the line, yizo yizo…

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  28. Anonymous says:

    Bleh Bleh

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