As hurricane season gets closer and closer a picture is
As I am sure many of you know if you’ve been keeping an eye on the news, the new South African Weather Service Amendment Bill which seeks to censor sites like this, has come under great scrutiny. Personally, I think it’s great that so many large names are getting behind the cause to fight a bill that would censor areas that people don’t really think of all that often.
I have been in contact with Randolf from www.weather.co.za who is going to be attending the Parliamentary public hearings on the bill next week. And I have requested he be the representative speaker for me and stormchasing.co.za while there and asked that he present the following piece on my behalf.
Storm Chasing South Africa is a private non-profit website founded in 2009 as a personal expansion of a hobby and interest of mine, namely severe weather. I provide articles based on my opinion of what the weather may be doing. At no stage in my articles do I claim that my information is official and in no way do I seek to cause alarm or spread misinformation. I also provide an online forum where users are able to discuss upcoming weather events and severe weather threats, also in an environment that nowhere claims to be official information.
The SA Weather Service amendment bill includes the ban of the general public or other meteorological agencies issuing severe weather warnings, while I can see how this can easily be manipulated into sounding as though the bill will be doing the general favour to the public by removing hoax e-mails and fake stories about upcoming severe weather events, it in fact is just the monopolization of meteorological information.
Firstly I’d like to bring attention to the wording used in the bill. The new amendments within the bill under section 30 and in particular section 30(a) are far too broad. It states no person may issue a severe weather warning without the necessary written permission of the Weather Service. The issue here is that a severe weather warning is a blanket term which has not been described in enough detail for it to be understood. If I were to make a post on my website with the content mentioning the potential for thunderstorms, would that be included in the bills definition of a severe weather warning? Would I be prosecuted? What if I was to say that it looks like there is going to be a heatwave? Under this bill, one is forced to refrain from the publication of any kind of weather information that may be of interest.
I’d now like to bring attention to how the weather services are operated in other countries, for example the United States. In the United States of America, the government sponsored environmental websites such as www.weather.gov operate free of charge to the public, where their intention is the safety of U.S citizens. The U.S has a similar law in place as the one proposed in the South African Weather bill, but with one fundamental differences, while in the United States only the National Weather Service may issue official severe weather warnings, the general public and other weather agencies still have the legal right to issue their own warnings.
Another outlandish clause in the bill is that it will be illegal to spread “false or misleading information about the South African Weather Service”. That sentence sums up the amendment bill pretty accurately. It is a clear indication that it’s not safety or integrity of information that the South African Weather Service is worried about, it’s about becoming an untouchable monopoly that can be corrupt and flawed to any degree but at the same time an untouchable entity. Who would determine if the information is false and misleading, most likely a judge. What this does, is use fear into scaring people into making sure that they never criticize the Weather Service and that doing so may land them in jail or even just in court.
I see no evidence that this bill or the South African Weather Service are trying to increase safety and awareness, The reason for the bill, in all likeliness is to create a monopoly that would allow for a single channel of uninterrupted revenue. If this bill were to be passed, it would mean that there would be no alternative for information to the general public, they would be forced to use the South African Weather Service. The South African Weather Service over the years has become increasingly profit orientated, something that contradicts the ideas of increasing safety among the public. For anyone who has been a frequent visitor to the South African Weather Service website, as I have, over the past 10 years, you would have seen the shift it took from being a source of information to a business model. The website has undergone several redesigns in the past 10 years, each redesign lending itself to easier income, while each redesign also limiting the amount of free information. As an official weather service who’s responsibilities are to protect the public, I see no place for a business model – unless only those wealthy enough to afford the insane costs of membership are worth protection.
As I touched on earlier, I am no stranger to the annoying hoax e-mails that get passed along with the South African Weather Service logo on them, and I whole heartedly agree that it’s something that must be handled and punished. But there is a huge gap between impersonating the South African Weather Service and forecasting severe weather unofficially, especially since vast majority of us that do it unofficially offer disclaimers stating that we are not an official source.
There is large support for the bill being scrapped and media sources all over publishing content on the ludicrous nature of the bill. If it were truly imperative to safety and well being of the public, one would imagine that the public themselves would come out in support of the bill, instead of rallying behind how it’s just another form of censorship and monopolization with some going so far as to describe it as a breach of the constitution, which would probably be an accurate statement.
In closing I’d like people to think about the bill and the reasons behind it. If you are looking to increase the safety of the general public, this bill is not how one is going to achieve that. All this bill will do is monopolize meteorology in South Africa, it will censor weather enthusiasts, it will turn what should be awareness into a complete business model and ultimately it will make the country look like a joke internationally. As stated in opening, I make no money from my website, I stand to lose nothing financially. But I am unable to sit back and have my interests and opinions censored so that a corporation can turn over a good profit. I, along with the others involved in local weather related sites have poured thousands of hours of work and money to bring a service to the public and provide a free platform to communicate.
I have faith that it will be as easy as it is to me to see the flaws and ludicrousy in this bill and the unwarranted censorship that it will enforce.
I urge everyone else able to make it to the hearings next week to please do so and voice your concern over this bill.
Edited to add: I would like to PS on this article given the response from the Government about the bill. Firstly I’d like to state that I have no desire to ‘bash’ the SAWS about other things, I along with many others were annoyed by the price for products they offer, but while not liking it, I could understand their position from a degree and saw that apart from getting more government funding, it was needed to keep the site going, and to pay the salaries of the mets who work there, many of which are great guys who I’m sure oppose this bill.
In particular I would like to respond to the government’s response. They stated in the press release that they gave in response to the media and public’s cries of ‘crazy’ over the bill, stating that the bill was needed to keep people from spreading hoax information. A point which I addressed in my original draft and one that I can completely understand. What I don’t understand is how if that is the purpose of the bill, solely, how come it was written in such broad terms that would apply to all other weather related services. Are these bills drafted by people with terrible English comprehension or just a lack of common sense? And why then the extra clause that prohibits people from criticizing the South African Weather Service.
I will state it on record, I would completely support a clause that reduces the number of hoax e-mails being spread. But I will only do this if those drafting the bill actually come up with a feasible way of doing so, without being lazy and taking down the rest of the weather community with them. If they were to do that, I may believe this was about public interest and not about a monopoly.