A few weeks ago I was waiting in a very long queue at Pick n Pay. There were two young guys in front of me, dressed in overalls and waiting to pay for a loaf of bread and two pieces of chicken.
The one pointed at a newspaper near the till, its headline announcing the birth of President Zuma’s 21st child. Then he whipped out a relatively new Samsung cellphone and proceeded to go to an online news site. Navigating a small screen is cumbersome, but when you spend hours waiting for food or transport it’s not a problem.
Now, if the media tribunal went ahead and online news organisations were subjected to the same censorious criteria as print media, a local online news site could simply publish all its content on an overseas server. Surely it would then be published outside of the tribunal’s jurisdiction? Not so.
The Protection of Information Bill contains an “Extra-territorial application of Act”:
44. Any act constituting an offence under this Act and which is committed outside the Republic by any South African citizen or any person domiciled in the Republic, must be regarded as having been committed in the Republic.
Basically, if you’re a South African citizen writing about stuff the government considers “classified”, you can be charged — no matter where you are.
The Act also prosecutes those who assist in the dissemination of such information. So if you read something considered “classified” by our government, even if it’s written by a foreign journalist on an international site, and you then tweet, write on facebook or blog about it — or even SMS a friend about it — you could be arrested.
If those two guys in Pick n Pay had been looking at an international news site with “classified” information and then forwarded it on to a friend, they could end up in jail.
Can you imagine how many people are going to end up in court if this bill is passed? It’ll be like the intentional breaking of pass laws in the 60s.
Government needs to realise that this is the 21st century and you can’t stop the flow of information because it’s not a one-way street anymore. And as much as Julius Malema and his ilk would like to believe that the poor and working class don’t know what the internet is, that’s no longer true either.
Domestic workers, delivery guys, drivers, shop assistants, shelf packers, tellers — they’re all getting their news online via their cellphones. It is no longer the domain of an elite middle-class.
The truth will out, no matter how many laws you pass or how much time you waste. So ditch the act.