Right2Know campaign gets loud

Protesters sang out against the proposed 'Secrecy Bill' outside of Luthuli House. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protesters sang out against the proposed ‘Secrecy Bill’ outside of Luthuli House. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Right2Know campaign members protested outside Albert Luthuli House today against President Jacob Zuma signing the Secrecy Bill.

About 10 protesters dressed in their red and black Right2Know campaign shirts, held banners and posters that shot down the Protection of State Information Bill which President Zuma has yet to sign.[pullquote align=”right”]This is a bad bill for South Africa, send it back to parliament and scrap it![/pullquote]

Dan McKinley, Right2Know spokesperson outlined the reason for the protest. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Dan McKinley, Right2Know spokesperson outlined the reason for the protest. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

“It is there on his desk. We ask you Zuma to listen to the people and do away with the Secrecy Bill!” said Dale McKinley, spokesperson for Right2Know in Gauteng.

He said the bill would bring South Africa down and take the country back to the oppressive apartheid-type regime which censored media and whistle blowers.

“This is a bad bill for South Africa, send it back to parliament and scrap it!” he added.

Whistle blowers in a crisis

McKinley said there is the crisis of whistle blowers who are “dying out, being stopped, fired and killed” for exposing corruption. One banner read: “Exposing corruption is not a crime”.

“Do the right thing and pass legislation which protects whistle blowers in the country”, said McKinley, appealing to Zuma who visits Luthuli House on Mondays.


Protesters wore masks to conceal their identities in fear of being victimised if identified. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protesters wore masks to conceal their identities in fear of being victimised if identified. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Right2Know (R2K) celebrated their third anniversary last week. They have been campaigning against the Secrecy Bill since 2010, persistently challenging the government’s decisions around this Bill.

National Key Points act

McKinley said Right2Know also opposes the National Key Points act which conceals expenditure like in the case of Nkandla.

The protest was supposed to be carried out in front of Luthuli House but members were told today the ANC headquarters is a National Key Point and cannot be protested in front of.

“That is why we aren’t standing on the other side of the road. Today we were told Luthuli House is a National Key Point,” said McKinley.

They stood across the road on the corner of President and Sauer Street.

Siphiwe Segodi lead the small crowd that had gathered in song and dance. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Siphiwe Segodi lead the small crowd that had gathered in song and dance. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa


Protesters danced and repeated chants, singing: “Down with the Secrecy Bill. Down! Down!”; “Down with Zuma. Down! Down!”; “Forward with Right2Know. Forward! Forward!”

Some of them wore white masks to cover their faces. A woman who led the singing said: “You must hide yourself. The baboons in there will see us!” – referring to members of parliament inside Luthuli House.

Devereaux Morkle from the South African Press Association said to one of her colleagues: “I would also wear a mask if I was taking part in this protest.”

The Spy Bill

The campaign also opposes the government’s intentions of adopting the Spy Bill which could threaten the privacy of citizens via cell phone tapping.

“We demand good governance”; “Power to the people and not the Secrecy Bill” and “Defend our whistle blowers” were some of the phrases painted on signs held by the protesters.


Menell13: Media freedom unpacked

[Photographs by Nokuthula Manyathi]

Some of the most influential South African journalists gathered at the Sol Kerzner auditorium at the University of Johannesburg on Saturday, to discuss various topics under the media freedom umbrella. The topics ranged from government propaganda to secrecy laws and beyond.

Inside the belly of the beast

Keynote speaker and host of Faultlines on Al Jazeera, Josh Rushing spoke candidly about being a marine and a journalist.

“I was inside Al Jazeera, inside the military and inside the Bush administration – I had a unique vantage point,” said Rushing.

In 2003, Rushing was with Central Command and tasked with speaking to the media about the invasion in Iraq. A controversial documentary, Control Room, showed Rushing speaking about the invasion. The Pentagon muzzled his attempts to speak about the documentary, so he resigned after 14 years of service.

It was at this point that Rushing helped to start up Al Jazeera English. Rushing explained that Al Jazeera had always been vilified as being the mouthpiece for Al-Qaeda and he resigned so he could speak about what it wasn’t.

Power corrupts

Rushing said that the Obama administration is possibly the least transparent and most aggressive towards the media. “When he (Obama) was a senator, he championed media freedom,” lamented Rushing.

He explained that the U.S Espionage Act of 1917 has been used seven times under Obama’s watch. Rushing said that even though President Obama may have good intentions: “All power leads to abuse at some point.”

He touched on data mining and how companies like Apple and Google are colluding with the current administration to store people’s data.

Secrecy laws back home

A panel consisting of Nic Dawes, William Bird and Ylva Rodney-Gumede spoke about secrecy laws and how they would possibly affect journalism in South Africa. [pullquote]“People can classify information that should not be classified in the first place”[/pullquote]

Dawes explained that the amendments that had been to the Protection of State Information Bill since its inception were great, but didn’t cure the concerns he had with the bill. But was happy that: “We’ve made freedom of information a broad public debate,” he said.

Bird was less optimistic and bluntly said the bill as it stood was “evil, old apartheid stuff”. He said the fact that people’s travel schedules could be classified was a problem, when someone like President Obama’s schedule is available online for the world to see.

“People can classify information that should not be classified in the first place,” bemoaned Bird.

Mzilikazi wa Afrika said that the bill would be problematic for journalists. He highlighted the contradictory message being sent by government.

“On one hand they have hotlines for people to call in and report corruption and other such crimes and on the other they are saying if you blow the whistle, we will send you to jail,” he said.

Media attorney and moderator of the panel, Dario Milo jokingly said he calls it the “some Secrecy Bill”, after the amendments that have been made. To which Rodney-Gumede replied, “great the SS Bill”.

Public Protector

“Journalism allows people to have oversight over the people they have entrusted with power,” said public protector, advocate Thuli Mandonsela.

She also highlighted the parallels between her office and investigative journalism, namely the investigative aspect and the role they play in strengthening our democracy.

The role of investigative journalism

Adriaan Basson, deputy editor of the City Press said that the success of investigative journalism cannot be measured against prosecutions. “What happens after investigations is not our job,” said Basson.

He went on to list three ways in which investigative journalism could be improved. Firstly, the stories of the victims of corruption need to be told. The impact of corruption needs to be highlighted to empower people. “It’s not about us, it’s about them,” said Basson.

Secondly journalists need to experiment with new technologies and data journalism to make their stories appeal to people. Lastly, “Get off twitter and get into the Corolla,” said Basson.

Mzilikazi wa Afrika of the Sunday Times agreed with Basson and explained how he had found two of his award winning stories by way of not sitting behind his desk waiting for news.

Piet Rampedi of The Star said that threats and intimidation from the top are the price you pay “if you dare to do investigative journalism”.

Investigative journalism isn’t a special category, “just great journalism” expressed an audience member.

Dodge propaganda and spin

Justice Malala, host of The Justice Factor on eNCA spoke about the media “falling” for government propaganda and government spin doctors. [pullquote align=”right”] “For four years we ran after the theatrics of politics and ignored the important things,”[/pullquote]

Malala spoke out against the way the media is easily distracted and gave the example of Julius Malema. “For four years we ran after the theatrics of politics and ignored the important things,” he said.

He expressed the need for journalists and the media to start talking about institutions as opposed to speaking about isolated incidents, incidents that people often forget about. “We forget sometimes, I also forget and go with the noise,” added Malala.

Senior researcher at Wits Journalism and panelist, Glenda Daniels disagreed with Malala and said that the media doesn’t just fall for spin and that there is a lot of continuity in media stories, giving the example of the Gupta scandal.


Wits opposes the secrecy bill

Academics this week backed the university’s opposition of the Protection of State Information Bill and its threat to academic freedom.

The university issued a statement backing Higher Education South Africa (HESA) urging the National Council of Provinces to reject the bill in its current form.

HESA noted much opposition has centred on the implications for the media.

The secrecy bill, as it is commonly known, was approved by the National Assembly in November last year.

The bill is still to be be debated before the National Council of Provinces.

It will announce its decision in April. If approved by the NCOP, the Bill will be passed into law.

Dr Mehita Iqani, a lecturer in the Wits media studies department, said:

“As the HESA statement rightly points out, the secrecy bill could also introduce very troubling constraints on academic freedom. It could discourage academics and students from researching certain issues of governance, policy making, service delivery and more.”

“It could close the door on research into corruption. The bill takes away the power of academia to act as another watchdog on political power.”

HESA said academics could face imprisonment for dealing with classified information even if that information is in the public interest.

“This will inevitably have a chilling effect on academic freedom,” the statement says.

One of the specific examples HESA uses is research in the field of law, which details how the bill would make research into court proceedings and critiques of court judgments “impossible”.

Prof Natania Locke of the Wits School of Law said the bill would make research in the field problematic:

“As an academic, all aspects of our daily working lives depend on the ability to speak our minds freely and to critically enquire into the fields that directly concern our disciplines,” said Locke.

“It is what we do, especially as legal academics.” According to Janeske Botes, an associate lecturer and PhD student in media studies,”academics will be affected as their research interests could clash with the bill.

“So crucial academic research which can have important ramifications on civil society will be blocked.”

“The media will not be able to inform the public of this, so we see a cycle of information suppression developing,” said Botes.

The HESA statement concludes with an acknowledgement that there is “information that should be kept secret to protect national security” but stresses that the bill, as it stands, will restrict the process of knowledge generation and place academic freedoms in jeopardy.