The State Security Agency (SSA) has welcomed the North Gauteng High Court judgment reaffirming the prohibition of the possession and publication of classified information by unauthorized persons.
The ruling followed a court application launched by the SSA against a journalist and employer – Independent Media.
The SSA had complained to the court that around December of 2021, a journalist at Independent Media illegally obtained a classified intelligence report.
Two dailies belonging to Independent Media subsequently published articles based on the classified report.
The judgment handed down on Wednesday, (5 October 2022), ordered Independent Media to desist from further publication of the report and to return it to the SSA.
Initially, on 22 December 2021, the SSA obtained an interim order prohibiting the publication of the said report.
However, the media house went ahead and published the report the following day.
The SSA further complained that the media house again pubished a secont installement of the classified report on 19 May 2022 – the same week the matter was heard in court.
The court found that the publication of the content of such a classified report was against the law.
The court said the SSA was justified to interdict the media house as the information contained in the report could potentially prejudice the work of the agency and thus compromise the country’s national security.
“We welcome this judgment and are glad that the court has reaffirmed the principle of classification of sensitive State information, the decision is an important milestone because it sets the standard for handling of information which, if abused, may compromise national security” said Minister Gungubele, who is responsible for State Security in the Presidency.
He added that the judgment also serves as a stern warning against those who connive with third parties by leaking sensitive State information for nefarious reasons.
“Those who work with third parties to manipulate sensitive State information for their undefined agendas should be warned that our Rule of Law will not tolerate such behaviour,” said Gungubele.
The minister, however, reasserted the constitutional right of the media to access information and to report without fear or favour.
“We respect media freedom as enshrined in our Constitution and we will always stand on the side of those who practice ethical journalism in our constitutional democracy”.