South Africa pushed through contentious legislation Thursday that restricts access to information and imposes fines and penalties including jail time for journalists who publish what the government considers secrets. The Guardian notes there is widespread agreement that the bill's onerous measures have been reduced in the five-year debate since it was proposed, but critics believe there remains discretion for the government to curtail press freedom. Some see it as the first erosion of democracy since apartheid was eliminated in the country nearly two decades ago.
The English-language Egypt Independent closed abruptly Thursday. The New York TImes reports that the site, one of the most aggressive in chronicling political change in the country, was experiencing financial difficulties that investors said could not be surmounted. But it also notes that its staff believes there was a political motive in the closure because of the site's criticism of the president and the Muslim Brotherhood. That observation is shared in a commentary on Tahrir Squared.
A new law in England and Wales makes it tougher to sue. The New York Times reports that the bill passed Thursday does not switch the burden of proof from the defendant, but it offers some provisions to strengthen their position. They can, for instance, claim the information was published in good faith and that it was in the public interest. The bill also is aimed at reducing "libel tourism," in which people chose England as a litigation venue even when publicity of the information was minor there.