Cape Town – The World Editors’ Forum (WEF) has urged South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma to re-consider the Protection of State Information Bill, which has sparked controversy.
The proposed legislation aims to regulate the classification, protection and dissemination of state information, weighing state interests against transparency and freedom of expression.
The media industry is particularly vulnerable as the legislation provides for severe penalties for leaking documents, which entail jail terms of up to 25 years.
WEF head Andrew Heslop said that President Zuma had displayed a big misconception about journalism and the role of the media in a democracy.
“Silence kills democracy, Mr President. Mexico is the prime example of this in recent times.
“If the media is muzzled – by violence or simply through instructions to report only positive news – its watchdog role that you so deride is stifled. Such a situation profits only those with something to hide,’’ Heslop said in an open letter to Zuma.
“It is for this reason that the controversial Protection of State Information Bill, now back in Parliament, is a dangerous road for South Africa to walk and should be reviewed and modified at all costs.
“Transparency and accountability are virtues of strong governance, whereas attempts to cloak under a veil of secrecy the inner workings of state are a sign that things are not at all well in the corridors of power,’’ he wrote.
The so-called Secrecy Bill was passed by the National Assembly in 2011.
President Zuma last week returned the Bill to Parliament due to spelling errors and bad grammar.
Opposition parties have welcomed the decision, and expressed the hope that Parliament would be able to completely rework the document. (PANA/NAN)