Censors and the secrecy bill - the perfect match
Sunday Time Editorial : PARLIAMENT has edged closer to passing the Protection of Information Bill as public hearings took place before the National Council of Provinces this week. The hearings - already controversial after only 17 of the 263 written submissions were approved for presentation to the committee - were the scene of an attempt to gag certain views on the legislation.
A written submission by Mark Weinberg of the Alternative Information Development Centre was among those scheduled for airing at the hearings. But Weinberg was interrupted in mid-stride and prohibited from completing his submission.
This occurred after he had spoken about the "rise of conservative authoritarianism" and "the rise of the securocrats" in the post-Polokwane dispensation.
A bizarre debate ensued during which the committee discussed whether to allow the submission.
Weinberg argued that he was merely presenting the written submission which had already been approved by the committee for the session.
Weinberg was justifiably upset when the decision was taken to disallow the submission.
"This is more evidence of the undemocratic culture gripping our government. We came to parliament offering socioeconomic and political context to deliberations on the bill. We came in good faith that the committee would listen and make the necessary changes to the secrecy bill. After listening to defensive questions from MPs all day, we are leaving very concerned about the committee's capacity to amend the secrecy bill - and with deep concerns about the health of our democratic parliament," he said.
For its part, parliament took the unusual step of issuing a public statement on behalf of the committee regarding the submission.
"The AIDC's oral presentation focused more on political ideologies and political landscape of South Africa instead of issues related to the bill," the committee said through a spokesperson.
"A decision was reached not to allow Mr Weinberg to continue with the presentation."
And then, without a hint of irony, the statement went on: "The committee welcomes and appreciates all relevant oral presentations that have been made to the committee as they will assist committee members in their deliberations."
The facts appear to contradict this last sentiment. It now seems that submissions to parliament deemed to be "focused on political ideologies and political landscape" are not to be allowed.
This represents further evidence of the ruling party's growing desire to suppress legitimate criticism.
Even before the Protection of State Information Bill has been passed, parliament has begun closing its eyes.