South Africa approves secrets bill, media fumes

The Protection of Information Bill allows any government agency to apply for classification of information that is “valuable” to the state and criminalises the possession and distribution of state secrets.

Critics say the bill harms the nation’s weakened credibility on tackling corruption and intimidates those who try to expose it. The ruling African National Congress said the bill is essential for protecting state information and keeping spies at bay.

Muzzling the press

The press has criticised the legislation as an attempt to silence whistleblowers and muzzle investigative journalists, who now face up to 25 years in jail for revealing state secrets.

Many South Africans wore black to protest against the bill, saying it was reminiscent of apartheid-era censorship laws. The bill’s passage briefly weakened the rand, with investors saying the vote dampened sentiment. A joint editorial in the country’s largest newspapers on Tuesday called the vote South Africa’s “day of reckoning for democracy”.

“The spreading culture of self-enrichment, either corrupt, or merely inappropriate, makes scrutiny fuelled by whistleblowers who have the public interest at heart more essential than ever since 1994,” the front-page editorial said.

The measure coincides with concerns about growing cronyism in the ANC government and a downgrade of South Africa’s outlook by ratings agency Moody’s, which said it was worried about increasing government interference in Africa’s largest economy.

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