If the Protection of State Information Bill is passed in its present form, the fight against corruption will become insurmountable, whistle-blowers and journalists would face unjust jail sentences, and the poor will have less chance of access to the services to which they are entitled. These were among the arguments put forward by civil society, legal and media bodies during public hearings that started in Parliament yesterday. The Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC), SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), Print Media South Africa (PMSA), SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Law Society of SA and Cosatu’s new Corruption Watch initiative all testified. A key thread was striking the correct balance between the need to protect information in the interests of national security and the values of transparency in the constitution – as well as the need for a public interest defence. Corruption Watch director David Lewis warned that the bill in its present form would seriously impede the fight against corruption. “Information is the key ingredient in fighting corruption, all corruption,” Lewis said. “Until civil society speaks out and tells its elected leaders and its public servants how commonly it experiences corruption and who corruption’s victims are, these crimes against the public will not be treated with sufficient seriousness and the perpetrators will not be treated like the common criminals that they are. A public that both informs and is informed is central to our mission and is central to harnessing the public in the fight against corruption.” SA Human Rights Commission deputy chairwoman Pregs Govender said without access to information, addressing issues that affect the poorest would be severely hampered. Govender blamed “issues relating to information and secrecy” for the multi-billion rand arms deal entered into by the South African government and some of the controversial decisions taken on HIV and Aids. Media lawyer Dario Milo said the journalists who wrote about suspended national police Commissioner Bheki Cele’s R26 million World Cup tender would have faced jail if the proposed bill had been in place. They would have faced prosecution under clause 43 which relates to the offence of disclosure and clause 44 which relates to possession of classified documents. This article originally appeared in Cape Argus on 28 March 2012. Excerpt If the Protection of State Information Bill is passed in its present form, the fight against corruption will become insurmountable, whistle-blowers and journalists would face unjust jail sentences, and the poor will have less chance of access to the services to which they are entitled.