Internet will save SA media

Johannesburg, 31 Aug 2010
Read time 1min 40sec

Pressure from international activists using social media and Internet publishing may force SA's government to reconsider its proposed information protection legislation and attempts to clamp down on press freedom, say Gartner analysts.

Parliament is busy reviewing the Protection of Information Bill. If passed, this Bill will make it possible for government officials to arbitrarily classify state information. Additionally, it makes possession of such information a criminal offence with prison sentences of up to 25 years. There are concerns such a Bill would hamper the ability of journalists to uncover corruption in the public sector.

The government is also mulling the possibility of setting up a Media Appeals Tribunal that will report to Parliament and have the power to imprison journalists and levy hefty fines on publishers.

Speaking at the annual Gartner Symposium at the Cape Town Convention Centre yesterday, Gartner analysts suggested such legislation would not be able to stand up to international and Internet-based pressure. As an example, the researchers pointed to a recent case in Uganda where a law legislating the execution of homosexuals was scrapped due to similar pressure.

Patrick Meehan, Gartner VP and research director, said that in the Uganda case a law had been passed that would have seen anyone found guilty of being a practicing homosexual put to death.

“A huge amount of pressure was brought on that government by activists using social media and other Internet types of publications to get that law dropped,” he said.

Peter Sondergaard, Gartner's global head of research, said that while he is not familiar with the provisions of the Protection of Information Bill, the use of the Internet and social media to publish classified information outside a country has been impossible to stop.

“Countries such as Iran, China and even the US have found this to be very difficult,” he said.

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