The research group IPSOS discovered widespread concern about the African National Congress's (ANC) protection of state information bill, which has been branded a ‘secrecy bill’ by activists, journalists and writers locally and abroad.
Its poll found that 44% of South Africans believe that the bill will limit media freedom, while 29% remain neutral, 14% have no opinion and 13% think it will not restrict freedom.
Some 46% of South Africans are also of the opinion that, if the new bill becomes law, officials will find it less difficult to conceal graft and fraud.
The proposed laws, which could make journalists and whistle-blowers vulnerable to jail terms of up to 25 years, are currently held up by wrangling at a parliamentary committee.
Of the governing ANC's own supporters, some 44% believe the bill will hurt media freedom. Among the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), the figure is 51%.
IPSOS's survey of 3,565 randomly chosen people was conducted between April and May. More than six out of 10 agreed with the statement that access to information and a free media are basic human rights. Less than one in 10 disagree.
The DA seized on the findings as evidence of South Africans' misgivings about the laws.
The bill was passed last year by parliament's national assembly but is yet to be debated by the national council of provinces.
Last month several countries registered concern at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk