Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Catholic Bishops oppose anti-journalists' interests law



(Southern African Catholic Dispatches)

Article by Marc Aupiais

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A press release our service verifies has passed our verification process as from the SACBC:

"Protection of Information Bill: Statement by Cardinal Napier

The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference has serious concerns about the wisdom and the constitutionality of the Protection of Information Bill currently before Parliament, as well as about the need for the establishment of a Media Appeals Tribunal.

The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) shares the views of numerous civil society groups and reputable constitutional experts, that the Bill threatens some of our most fundamental rights:
a) The right to receive and impart information;
b) The right to a free press and media;
c) The right of access to information held by the state, and
d) The right to administrative justice.

Furthermore, we believe that the Bill violates the spirit of openness and accountability that is so necessary to underpin the Constitution’s provisions on good governance, essential for a healthy democracy.

Our concerns include:
i) that virtually any information is liable to be classified as secret by officials who are themselves not accountable to the public;
ii) that the definition of national interest and national security are so broad that they could be used to keep secret matters that ought by right to be accessible to the public;
iii) that there is practically no right of appeal, as any appeal would be processed by the very people who made the original ruling.

We certainly do not want government to take us back to the oppressive practices of yesteryear, against which our common struggle was launched.

We accept that some degree of restriction of information is both legitimate and necessary. However we have grave misgivings about the way it will be done, particularly since it risks fostering or even entrenching a culture of non-accountability and non-transparency among state officials at all levels.

We, therefore, strongly urge government to withdraw the Bill for complete redrafting to ensure that the openness and transparency required by the Constitution and demanded by a clear majority of informed civil society organization and legal experts are adequately built in.

Finally, it is in this context that the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference calls on government recognize that there is already an efficient Media Ombudsman in existence. There is merit in proposals to strengthen the Ombudsman’s role in enabling the media to regulate itself. We believe that the proposed measure will give this instrument sufficient muscle to satisfy complainants.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier OFM
Archbishop of Durban
Spokesman for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference"
Press release emailed out today by the SACNC (Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference)
31 / 08 | August / 2010 : received at 14:27 GMT+2: "Protection of Information Bill: Statement by Cardinal Napier"



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