Parliament files answering affidavit to media houses

2015-02-17 12:21
Journalists attending the State of the Nation address hold their phones in the air to protest against the jammed signal in the House. (Lerato Maduna, City Press)

Journalists attending the State of the Nation address hold their phones in the air to protest against the jammed signal in the House. (Lerato Maduna, City Press)

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Court bid lodged as Parliament denies involvement in signal jamming

2015-02-17 12:19

Media houses and other organisations are launching an urgent application to ensure there is full access to Parliament after speaker Baleka Mbete denied Parliament's involvement in the scrambling of cellphone signal during SONA.WATCH

Cape Town - Lawyers representing the secretary of Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, have filed an answering affidavit on behalf of other respondents to the legal challenge by media houses and organisations to ensure full coverage of proceedings in Parliament and prevent the jamming of cellphone signals in the future.

The respondents oppose the measures sought in the application, saying they are far-reaching and are also not urgent. "The urgent relief sought is not directed at joint sittings of Parliament such as such as that convened for later today, tomorrow and Thursday."

The media houses had sought full media access to the debate on the president's State of the Nation address at 14:00 on Tuesday.

As such, the affidavit deals only with parts of the application relating to the media houses' application that there be no interference with free and open communication during sittings and meetings; and to ensure that audio and visual feeds are not interrupted.

Separation of powers

The application also intrudes on the doctrine of separation of powers, the respondents argue.

"Indeed, the relief sought infringes upon the principle of separation of powers in that the court is asked to impose on Parliament and its Committees measures that are intended to regulate public access in circumstances where Parliament has promulgated appropriate rules and policies governing public access.  These rules and policies remain in place until set aside as either unlawful or unconstitutional."

Mgidlana said the allegation that the feeds provided by Parliament are not fair, accurate and comprehensive had no factual basis, as the feeds are provided in terms of Parliament's policy, which is a "reasonable and strikes a balance between the rights of the public to be informed about Parliament and the duty to maintain the dignity of the House".

"Disruption of Parliament may or may not be broadcast but it should be left to Parliament to determine which incidents in parliament will be broadcast and which ones will not."


Mgidlana stated that the incident during the State of the Nation address is under investigation, and Parliament will do everything in its power to avoid a similar situation in future. "Parliament has never sought to or authorised interference with free and open telecommunications during its sittings or meetings.  What happened last Thursday is without precedent."

The applicants are using a once-off incident to seek far-reaching orders which could have serious implications for Parliament and the separation of powers, Mgidlana argued.

Earlier, the media houses launched the application to ensure that the live audio and video feed capture the totality of events and are made available to the media, and that there will be no scrambling of telecommunications signals in the National Assembly.

Media organisations Media 24 and Primedia Broadcasting are being joined by the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef), Right to Know, and the Open Democracy Advice Centre in the application.

This came after cellphone signals were temporarily blocked ahead of last Thursday's State of the Nation address, and the eviction of EFF MPs was not broadcast on the parliamentary channel, with the cameras instead focusing on Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise.

Read more on:    state of the nation 2015  |  parliament 2015  |  media

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