23 September 2010

Our democracy at risk?

I pass on another message from Avaaz, with my own comments at the end.

South Africa's democracy is at risk -- a draconian and unconstitutional new secrecy Bill is in Parliament and a Media Tribunal could be endorsed by the ANC Council this week, muzzling the media and letting the security agencies operate without accountability.

The secrecy measures in the "Protection of Information Bill" and the proposed "Media Appeals Tribunal" threaten press freedom enshrined in the Constitution and will hamper public scrutiny of the government and security agencies, blocking the media from exposing corruption and abuse of power. Hundreds of prominent South Africans, business executives, civic leaders and journalists have condemned the measures and submitted amendments on the Bill to Parliament, but so far the ANC is defending both proposals. Only massive pressure from citizens across South Africa can wake them up and preserve hard-won freedoms!

We have just 3 days to be heard at the ANC Council. Let's raise an irresistible outcry -- join the call for the ANC to listen to the people, respect the Constitution and promote accountable and transparent government! Click to sign the urgent petition, then forward this message to everyone – it will be delivered at the ANC Council:


43% of South Africans survive on no more than R16 a day and half of our youth are unemployed, while Transparency International claims "corruption is increasing at an enormous rate and it impacts severely on the poor. Revenue destined for the poor is misappropriated". These new proposals would obstruct the media's bold efforts to expose bribery, corruption and fraud and would lead this proud democracy towards autocratic control.

The proposed Protection of Information Bill would allow any national or local government department or agency to classify and make secret any information that they consider against the 'national interest' and would punish whistle blowers or journalists with up to 25 years in jail if they leak or publish information that was classified, even if it was in the public interest. This violates Section 32 of the Constitution -- which protects the citizens right of access to any information held by the State.

The Media Tribunal would replace the Press Ombudsman with a state agency accountable only to the ruling party, tightly regulating reporting, and imposing penalties on journalists who publish unapproved content.

Just like when citizens came together to call for effective treatment for HIV and AIDS in 2007, if we rally now we could change the course of these repressive policies and efforts to silence the media can be stopped.

The ANC Council meeting is the decisive moment -- if we lose this chance, the ANC's 60% majority in Parliament will most likely push these proposals through unchanged. Inside the ANC Council COSATU delegates and others are strongly against the gag law -- if we raise a massive citizens' outcry this week, we could support their efforts on the inside to overwhelm an elite who attempt to railroad through these undemocratic proposals.

Sign the petition and forward this message to everyone:


Many fought, and died, for these freedoms. Now, if citizens stand up together to protect South Africa's democracy, our outcry will be too loud to ignore -- and we will beat those who want to protect their power and privilege by curbing constitutional liberties.

I'm in two minds about this.

On the one hand I don't want our hard-won freedoms taken away by a bunch of self-serving politicians.

On the other hand, I suspect that the equally self-serving media are crying "wolf" once too often.

So my response tends to be "A plague on both your houses" and to concentrate on something else, and think that if our constitutional liberties are being threatened by this as much as they say, then let the Constitutional Court deal with it and toss it out.

The media, no less than the politicians, are in it for the money.

So when they cry "wolf", I tend to get very cynical.

No, I wouldn't like to go back to the muzzled press of the apartheid era. But I do believe that the media abuse their freedom by hyping certain issues and ignoring others. And one of the things they have done is to turn politicians into celebrities, and to gossip about them as the gossip columnists gossip about film stars. They've certainly turned Julius Malema into a celeb, and he's played them along for all he's worth. Eat your heart out, Brenda!

And perhaps the ANC is reacting to that too.

Not that it's a good reaction, but when I read about it in the newspapers, my eyes tend to glaze over and think "Well, look who's talking."

Oh, I'll sign the Avaaz petition, all right. But I still think I'll leave it to the Constitutional Court, which can look at it, I hope, without all the media hype.

If the government try to muzzle the Constitutional Court -- then I'll get worked up about it. That would mean that they had sold out completely.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure about the constitutional court looking at it more impartially - the RICA law (Regulation of Interception of Communication Act) got through back in 2002 or so with very little oversight, and still people seem to have very little understanding about what that act enables...


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