29 Jul 2008
By Wendell Roelf
CAPE TOWN, July 29 (Reuters) - South African media faces the threat of political censorship if new information laws are passed through parliament unchanged, media firms argued at public hearings on Tuesday.
The Protection of Information Bill put forward by the African National Congress-led government seeks to replace apartheid-era laws that also governed the protection of information.
It has been lambasted by media, civic organisations and opposition parties as draconian. Among other measures, the bill would make the unauthorised disclosure of information a crime and journalists could be prosecuted for espionage. Investigative reporters fear that would severely limit their ability to break stories.
He said Avusa took exception to the bill's broad definition of concepts such as national interest, its unprecedented regulation of commercial information and disregard of the defence of public interest in publishing information. South African politicians have increasingly approached the courts to prevent the publication of details of deals that have drawn accusations of corruption. Until now, they have had limited success.
Milo agreed with the opposition Democratic Alliance member Dene Smuts that an unintended consequence of the bill was that it could cover up corrupt practices by its regulation of commercial information such tender bids.
The Mail and Guardian newspaper also argued against the bill.