Friday, July 9, 2010

Bill 'will limit right to know'

9 July 2010, 15:48

Fears that people's "right to know" may be further restricted by the soon-to-be-enacted Protection of Personal Information Bill have been expressed by organisations concerned about press freedom.

They say the bill will limit access to important information and also place restrictions on how it can be used.

The bill is extremely complex and technical, and concerns have also been expressed that this could have a "chilling effect" on the flow of information because of the uncertainty the law will create.

The law would have far- reaching effects, said a spokeswoman for the Freedom of Expression Institute, Melissa Moore.

She said she was pleased that restricted information could be released by a regulator but that the process would be cumbersome.

"Can you imagine a situation where every time a journalist would like access, or wants to apply for exemption or access to some personal information in terms of the act, you have to go through the whole process of trying to handle or deal with the regulator before you can actually publish newsworthy content?"

Moore expressed these concerns when taking part in SAfm's After Eight Debate, on the bill and its implications.

She said the act would have a chilling effect on the ability of the media to inform the public. "I think that is in essence the main concern here."

Moore said she was concerned about the "proliferation" of this type of restrictive legislation, with the Protection of Information Bill also before parliament.

The Protection of Information Bill, she said, sought to "clamp down and give the state tremendous power to censor and classify documents".

"I do feel there is a proliferation of bills being put in place ... (like) the Film and Publications Amendment Bill that went through last year that encroach on people's freedoms."

Her views got some support from a member of the debating panel, Neil Kirby, an attorney, who said it was difficult to say how much the Bill would impede the flow of information.

Kirby agreed the law could have an effect on those who were in a position to give information, by making them nervous to do so. "People rather err on the side of caution," he said.

"You will have what the Americans call a chilling of speech and if that is the case we are on a slippery slope."

Kirby said there had been an increase in legislation dealing with information, but this was inevitable in a changing world.

"One has to realise that the way information is dealt with today in a very modern age is incredibly complex.."

He said the law had to keep pace with these changes.

A third member of the discussion panel, Ananda Louw, of the South African Law Reform Commission, said new technologies had made the world "borderless".

Louw said people were often reluctant to pass on personal information for fear it might be abused, as inidentity theft.

"We are actually enabling people... (by keeping) that information safe," she said.

This article was originally published on page 8 of The Daily News on July 09, 2010

The Star

Comments by Sonny

The ANC wants to gag the media from revealing corruption!

At present even banks sell personal information which makes identity theft an easy exercise.

These rules should actually apply to Home Affairs and their ilk!

What is the opposition doing to stop this Bill from being passed?

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