Right 2 Know: Hijacking a Conference Near You

Dec 05, 11 Right 2 Know: Hijacking a Conference Near You

Since there’s been a Protection of Information Bill there’s been a Right 2 Know Campaign. They have steadfastly refused to accept the POI bill in any way, shape or form whatsoever, which is probably good. The Bill needs to be redone from the ground up, and no matter how many concessions are hypothetically made (though unlikely now that it is actually legislation), the bill has been tainted and poisoned, and should be scrapped if only for the purposes of washing everyones’ hands clean of it. So kudos to R2K for fighting the good fight. As I noted a while back, their noises of ‘resistance’ are admirable, but ultimately pointless, since this is something that will be decided by our Constitutional Court and not a civil society.

But that was so last-month. Now that it’s been passed, local media outlets have focused their short attention spans to Jackie Selebi’s shenanigans and climate change in the form of COP17. But what’s this! We see R2K tramping about outside the ICC in Durban talking about the POI Bill again!? I thought that organisation had nothing to do with climate change?

Well, according to R2K the government is keeping what the lobbyist organisation call “climate secrets”, in the sense that they do not disclose otherwise-confidential financial agreements between private companies and Eskom. This somehow negatively impacts on our well-being as citizens (the R2K doesn’t really provide an explanation of just why we should know how much of a discount mining companies are getting, just that we should know.) Despite the fact that we already are aware of the price-alterations between big power-using companies in South Africa and Eskom, it’s frankly beside the point of COP17.

COP17 is at its core a summit of world leaders and policymakers to figure out how to improve our national and regional approaches to combating climate change. With the Kyoto Protocol fast reaching expiry this has become even more important. But the R2K has effectively siphoned off a large chunk of publicity covering this important event in order to lobby its own campaign against the POI Bill. Under the thin and rather silly guise of “climate secrets”, R2K appears to have leveraged the massive amounts of international media for its own gains, heedless of the broader consequences for other, smaller lobbyist organisations who have a more-relevant reason for being in Durban.

A recent picture posted on their facebook page profile shows a menacing shadow of a “soldier” overlooking the crowd. The caption cautioning everyone to “stay safe” lest this arbiter of state coercion descend upon the crowd of innocent, well-meaning R2K’ers with truncheons or ambiguous messages of authority. It’s a pathetically-shallow attempt at overhyping R2K’s own importance at a conference attended by world leaders and, thus, a significant police and Army presence to prevent riots, assasinations, bombings, vigilantism, terrorist attacks and so on. This is standard for any global conference, and it is irresponsible for R2K to exploit this for the painting of their own story. Whoever is running the page evidently thought he/she was being downright clever in portraying the situation as such a tense showdown between state and civil society. But drinking the Kool Aid does not a clever idea make!

I’m all for civil action. R2K has an important message to portray, even if mostly frequented by well-meaning middle class folks with nothing else to do on a Saturday. But their advocacy campaign against the POI Bill is not served by hijacking a climate change conference under a thin pretense. That merely rallies the sycophants who are already well entrenched in the organisation’s activities. R2K should ultimately pick their battles. COP17 was not  a good choice.

Image by Karmen Meyer

  • Deb

    I agree that the Right 2 Know campaign’s efforts in this context were a little misguided. I think they were smart to recognise the link between information relating to environmental issues and the public availability of such information. However, rather than looking at ‘climate secrets’, they needed to let go of the POIB (just for while) and should’ve focused on ‘access to environmental information’ which would’ve broadened their campaign horizons (and popularity) at COP17.

    One point of contention here though: The POIB hasn’t become ‘actual legislation’ yet. For now, it’s still a Bill :P 

  • John

    Oh right you are! I forgot about the NCOP and President, though legislation is virtually an inevitability :p

  • Deb

    Yup, it does seem as if the Protection of State Information Act and a subsequent ConCourt challenge will eventually happen. Even if the NCOP rejects or passes the POIB subject to amendments, the National Assembly may still override the NCOP and pass the original Bill [Section 75(1)(c) of the Constitution]. The President step, specifically in this legislative process, also seems like a moot point.