After a Week of Action to protest the Protection of Information Bill (the Secrecy Bill), the Right2Know Campaign has emerged as a vibrant campaign with significant influence in the public discourse. This rapid growth has raised a number of questions and the R2K Working Groups have called for a National Dialogue amongst campaign supports to deliberate on matters of the Campaign’s scope, strategy, and structure.
The National Dialogue: Towards Constituting the Right2Know
The Right2Know campaign was launched on 31 August 2010 to oppose the Ministry of State Security’s Protection of Information Bill – the Secrecy Bill. A number of civil society organizations made submissions and presentations to parliament opposing provisions of this bill and making counter proposals. The response by parliament was dismissive and many of these organizations met to formulate a collective response. This response was the to become the Right2Know Statement: Stop the Secrecy Bill! Let the Truth Be Told! The statement outlines the problems with the Bill and makes a set of seven demands (these demands are the basis of the Rght2Know Freedom Test).
The Right2Know Campaign has grown from strength to strength. The Right2Know statement now has the support of over 400 organizations and 11000 individuals. Most notable has been the breadth of support. Campaign supporters range from social justice movements to associations of property owners, from environmental groups, to gender groups and academic organizations. The notion that the Secrecy Bill will only impact on the media has been defeated – the free flow of information is truly in everyone’s interest.
We have established an open email discussion group of active supporters (http://groups.google.com/group/InfoAccessNow) and formed working groups in Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal, and the Western Cape. A very successful Week of Action saw popular education and mobilisation across South Africa – public meetings, pickets, protests and marches of thousands in or urban centers. The right2Know campaign has succeed in shifting the terms of the debate: The Ministry of State Security and Parliamentary Committee dealing with the Bill went from dismissive of criticism, to a panicked series of unscheduled Ministerial appearances and committee meetings intended to spin or soften the Bill and rush it through Parliament.
In a very short time the Right2Know has emerged as a vibrant campaign with significant influence in the public discourse. Our rapid growth has raised a number of questions and the R2K Working Groups have called for a National Dialogue amongst campaign supports to deliberate on matters of the Campaign’s scope, strategy, and structure.
This document is a contribution to setting the terms of this dialogue. It is not intended to prevent R2K supports from raising other issues that they feel should be addressed within or by the Campaign.
All R2K supporters are invited to discuss these matters in your communities and organizations, and attend planned Provincial Dialogues that will culminate in a National Summit in January 2011 (before Parliament reopen to consider the Secrecy Bill).
Dialogue #1: Scope of the Right2Know Campaign
While the Secrecy Bill before Parliament represents the most immediate threat to our ‘right to know’, it is not the only threat or limitation we face. Supports of the Right2Know have called on the campaign to take up other issues that pose a threat to the ability of all living in South Africa to access information and freely express themselves.
1. Should R2K only focus on defeating the Secrecy Bill and ‘close shop’ once this goal has been achieved?
2. If not, what are the other critical issues the campaign should be taking up? Some proposals have included:
– Opposing the effort to legislate a Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT);
– Promoting the use of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to enable access to information in practice;
– Campaign for greater diversity of media ownership;
– Opposing parts of the Public Service Broadcasting Bill that threaten the independence of community and public broadcasting;
– Defending the independence of the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) from government and corporate power;
– Calling for a review of Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA);
– Demanding quality public broadcasting from the SABC. Opposing governments destabilization of the Broadcaster;
– Promoting the sustainability of community media including the demand for increased funding for the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), reducing SENTECH transmission rates, etc;
3. If Right2Know broadens it’s scope, how would we define the focus of the Campaign?
Dialogue #2: Right2Know Campaign Strategy & Tactics
Depending on our response to the questions above, a number of strategic and tactical questions arise:
1. What are the current strengths and limitations of the Campaign?
2. What are the major risks and opportunities the Campaign should consider?
3. Is the current Right2Know statement (below) sufficient to guide our engagement with the Protection of Information Bill – the Secrecy Bill?
4. Who are the critical constituencies that we should be engaging/mobilizing?
5. How should we related to various other initiatives focusing on these issues including the SA National Editors Forum (SANEF) Coalition for the Freedom Speech, ANC, COSATU, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC), SOS Support Public Broadcasting Campaign, National Community Radio Forum, etc?
6. R2K was launched as a ‘civil society’ campaign. How should we relate to political parties and the private sector that share our perspective?
7. How should R2K engage in the POIB policy process: With the Committee as a whole? Opposition parties? The ANC? Members of the Ministry?
8. What legal advice and input doe the campaign require to influence the policy process? Should the R2K have lawyers draft an alternative Bill?
9. How should the campaign raise resources? We currently accept donor funding. What principles should inform our engagement with donors?
Dialogue #3: Right2Know Campaign Structure
The Right2Know campaign is currently supported by over 400 organizations and 11000 individuals that have endorsed the campaign statement. The campaign is currently led by volunteers (most representing organizations) on three working groups in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. We have set up a small national secretariat (with a part-time coordinator and full time administrator) and manage an email discussion list where supporters give input into matters affecting the Campaign. Concerns have been raised that the current structure is too weak and undemocratic to respond to the dynamic environment in which the campaign operates.
1. Should the campaign retain its’ current ‘loose’ structure? Should we strive for greater democracy (participation in developing campaign mandates) and accountability to our support base?
2. Should the Campaign be membership based?
3. Should we allow for either/both individual and organizational members? How will we balance the participation of different typed of members?
4. Should the campaign have local (branch) structures? Should we organize around sectors (e.g. CBO, NGO, labour, media, religious, social movement, etc)?
5. What should constitute a provincial structure? How should we enable national cohesion?
6. How should different structures be constituted and how should they report and renew their mandate?
To share your thoughts on these dialogue questions or make your voice heard in the Right2Know’s National Dialogue, contact:
021 461 7211
011 482 1913
031 304 9305
021 461 7211