Agenzia Fides REPORT - Bishops: No to the law on the media, as it “violates the spirit of openness and accountability” of government officials
The Bishops of South Africa have “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,” says a statement sent to Agenzia Fides from the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC), signed by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, OFM, Archbishop of Durban and SACBC spokesman. Just a few days ago, Cardinal Napier expressed his own opposition to the law (see 25/8/2010).
“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,” the statement reads. “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.”
The South African Bishops list what they see as the dangers entailed in reforming the law on mass media. First of all, they mention the concern “that virtually any information is liable to be classified as secret by officials who are themselves not accountable to the public”; secondly, “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”; and lastly, “that there is practically no right of appeal, as any appeal would be processed by the very people who made the original ruling.”
The Bishops continue: “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,” the SACBC says at the end of the statement.