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Right2Know: There’s a fight to be fought

By Glenda Daniels

This is my first blog. I will write about confessions of a non-blogger, non-tweeter, non-Facebooker, another time. For now, an exciting, nerve-wracking, tense, but maybe even adventurous year awaits us. There are confusing issues to digest regarding the democratic space of the media in 2011 after the traumatic flurry last year: journalists’ arrests, the ANC’s penchant for a media appeals tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill (PIB) before Parliament, which if passed would create a secretive society, and see journalists and whistleblowers jailed for being in possession of classified information.

So where do we stand in 2011 and what are the plans of action? The rundown is this:

The Right2Know (R2K) was launched last year, first in the Cape, then in Gauteng, then KZN, other provinces are coming on board. The R2K — a huge civil-society coalition — including trade unions, academic bodies, non-governmental organisations, media organisations, as well as concerned citizens organised themselves to protest the power the minister of state security will have to classify information in terms of the Bill. More than 400 organisations and 11 000 individuals signed up to support the free flow of information. A national summit of the R2K will be held in the first week of February, in Cape Town. The media, academics, researchers, NGOs and all those who have protested against the present PIB, before Parliament right now, have had the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) thrown at them. In other words, apply for information in terms of PAIA. Researchers found that in more than 60% of cases information has still been refused. The whole process is cumbersome, and costly in terms of time and money.

The media appeals tribunal
A resolution — to task Parliament with an investigation into a media tribunal was made by the ANC in Polokwane in December 2007. Nothing happened, then a further resolution was adopted at the national general council of the ANC in September 2010 in Durban to pursue the Polokwane resolution. The aim is to curb the “excesses” of the media. It is also unclear how the ANC gets to “task” Parliament with such a resolution.

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) met with government representatives in Magaliesberg in October 2010 to thrash out issues regarding the media. It was decided that the media would be given a chance to review and reform itself after which it would be decided whether a media tribunal was still necessary. In other words, start being good and we might reconsider restricting your freedoms.

Review process
Sanef is spearheading this review process having received many submissions from organisations, individuals, government but the ANC has just sent a one-pager as a submission. Some of the issues the organisation is grappling with include: 1. How should the media be apologising for mistakes it makes? The ANC would like to see bigger front-page apologies and even financial penalties. 2. Who should be on the Appeals Panel? There was no timeframe decided upon about when this review space should be completed.

So, then these are the things to watch — up next — the Protection of Information Bill in Parliament, then the R2K summit in Cape Town, first week of February. It’s going to be an exciting but tense year for all democrats. I think, there’s a fight to be fought.

Glenda Daniels is advocacy co-ordinator for the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism.