Media unaware of Parliament’s ‘attempt to control’ them

2011-10-04 13:04

Parliament’s “Policy on Media Relations Management”, which makes journalists get permission from Parliament before interviewing anyone there for a story, was not discussed with the media, the SA National Editors Forum said today.

“This is the first time that we have seen this document,” said Raymond Louw.

“They have the discourtesy to sign on a set of rules which they have not discussed with the media. They have also failed to communicate the policy rules to the media.”

The Times reported that Independent Newspapers’ political correspondent Deon de Lange’s parliamentary accreditation may be suspended because he wrote an article relating to the Access to State Information Bill, based on an interview with an unnamed senior parliamentary ANC official.

According to the report, the secretary to Parliament, Zingile Dingani, wrote to the Independent Group editors asking why he should not withdraw De Lange’s accreditation

ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga reportedly also threatened to crack down on De Lange’s source and ordered an investigation.

In response to an inquiry on the matter, Parliament’s media office faxed Sapa a copy of the policy, signed in August 2009 by Mninwa Mahlangu, chairman of the National Council of Provinces and Max Sisulu, the Speaker of the National Assembly.

After reading it for the first time today, Louw said the time it was signed roughly equated to the time the Parliamentary Press Gallery Association was moved out of the Parliament building to another building in the precinct.

At the time it was seen as an attempt to prevent ready access by reporters to members of Parliament.

“This set of regulations seems to have a similar motive behind it – to prevent reporters from having open contact with MPs.”
“If you want an interview with a parliamentary representative, you have got to apply through the media relations office.”

A breach could lead to media accreditation being withdrawn or suspended.

But, said Louw, Parliament does not have the power to do revoke accreditation.

“Parliament doesn’t have that right, only the Speaker, or chairperson of the National Council of Provinces.”

According to the policy, the media office manager became an intermediary between Parliament and the media.

“He exercises a censorship right which is unacceptable,” said Louw.

Nobody can speak to the media or give releases or statements on behalf of Parliament, unless instructed to do so.
It could also force parliamentary spokespeople for political parties, or MPs, to first go through Parliament’s media office before commenting on any issues.

“This is... an imposition of a set of regulations without proper consultation.”

De Lange’s conduct in speaking to his source was “perfectly normal”, said Louw.

“De Lange has every right to speak to anybody in Parliament. If they don’t want to give information, it’s their choice.
“The intention of removing his accreditation is a form of censorship.”

Sanef would ask for a meeting with the Speaker and the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, and would also present their objections in writing.

The Cape Town Press Club said it was also unaware of the rules.

“The Cape Town Press Club has never had sight of such a set of rules, and would urge Parliament to share them with the members of the media, if they intend holding journalists to such rules.”

The club urged Parliament to immediately reconsider its reported intentions and to leave De Lange to do his job.

Pieter Groenewald, the parliamentary leader of the Freedom Front Plus, said Parliament could not “one-sidedly make decisions for MPs”.

“The secretary (Dingani) should rather manage his personnel than try to control the media.

“The media should be allowed to communicate freely with whomever it wishes. It always remains the other party’s prerogative to react or refrain from reacting,” Groenewald said.

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