Recently a few companies, including debt counselling firm Dotsure and SA Home Loans, have refused to respond to media queries on behalf of clients, citing the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) as an excuse.
However, the work of journalists is specifically excluded from the Act, such as when consumer journalists make enquiries on behalf of a member of the public.
Information regulator spokesperson, Nomzamo Zondi, confirmed to the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) that "Section 7 of POPIA clearly stipulates that the Act does not apply to the processing of personal information for journalistic purposes.
“Therefore, in this instance, where the companies refuse to respond to media inquiries basing this on PoPIA - it's incorrect.
“Furthermore, the journalist in this instance has received consent from the data subject to process their personal information, making the case of the journalist more solid".
The chair of Sanef's Access to Information and Media Policy committee, Izak Minnaar adds: "This guidance from the Information Regulator means that as long as journalists follow the clauses on privacy and personal data in the Press Code of Ethics for Print and Online Media, they are acting within the prescripts of POPIA.
“In the light of the response from the Information Regulator, journalists are encouraged to report companies to the IR if they do not want to respond to reasonable requests made on behalf of consumers."