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Freedom House Concerned Over Passage of Restrictive South African Media Bill
Freedom House is deeply concerned with the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill in South Africa’s National Assembly. The passing of the Bill is indicative of an increasingly worrying trajectory on press freedom in a country once viewed as a model for democratic governance in Southern Africa.
On April 25, 2013, the Protection of State Information Bill passed in the National Assembly by 189 votes to 74. Passage of the bill, commonly referred to as the State Secrets Bill, follows more than two years of continued opposition by civil society groups, private media, and opposition political parties over the various draconian provisions. In its current form, the bill allows the government to classify information deemed to be in the public interest, limiting the ability of citizens to access information. The bill also imposes harsh penalties, including excessive fines and possible jail time, for anyone who publishes classified information, drastically limiting the ability of journalists and whistleblowers to expose corruption and state malfeasance. Now that the bill has been passed, it will go to the president to be officially signed in to law, although many civil society organizations have stated that they will challenge the bill in the country’s constitutional court.
The passage of the Protection of State Information Bill illustrates South Africa’s increasingly restrictive media environment. According to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report, South Africa has seen a steady decline in its press freedom score over the past five years. This trend corresponds with an overall decline in democratic governance as the country struggles with increasing state corruption and ongoing efforts by the ruling African National Congress to control state institutions and the judiciary.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.
South Africa is currently rated as Partly Free in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report. The 2013 edition of the Freedom of the Press index will be released on May 1.
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Blog: Freedom at Issue