The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) and the Support Public Broadcasting Coalition (SOS) are unhappy that the latest draft of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill does not address the question of vetting of editorial staff of the Public Broadcaster.
The bill is replacing the Apartheid era, National Key Points Act, 1980.
The SABC, currently a National Key Point and likely to be designated as “critical infrastructure” once the Bill becomes law.
“We believe this is a serious oversight which renders the Bill unconstitutional for violating the right to freedom of expression which is protected under section 16(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa,” statement reads.
“In our view, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee of the Police, dealing with this Bill, has overlooked the crucial informational role that the SABC plays in informing the nation of news and current events. We believe it is imperative that the editorial staff, that is, the journalists and editors of the national public broadcaster, the SABC, operate without hindrance, including unnecessary intimidation by the State Security Agency,” reads the statement.
The organisations say they believe it is essential that the Bill be amended to protect both the expression rights of the editorial staff at the national public broadcaster and the right to receive information or ideas by the broader South African public.
The Public broadcaster is also urged to be free from executive control and influence, to be able to perform its functions.
“We are of the view that the Committee has to take note of the dangers to the SABC that are posed by the current version of the Bill. It is self-evident that intimidation of SABC journalists and other editorial staff has a chilling effect on their ability to broadcast material that is in the public interest,” reads the statement.
According to the statement the organisation wants the Bill to be amended.
The organisation believes that, the following clause must be inserted into the Bill to avoid successful constitutional challenges being made thereto once enacted:
“Specific Protections for the SABC as the independent public broadcaster: in recognition of the vital role that the SABC, the independent public broadcaster, plays in ensuring that the public has access to a wide range of news and information, nothing in this Act shall require the security vetting, other than of the SABC’s security staff, of the SABC staff, in particular, no journalist or non-security staff member shall be required to disclose any communication undertaken in the course of his or her employment and sources of journalistic information as a result of the SABC being declared critical infrastructure and/or a critical infrastructure complex.”