Court hears Parliamentary film policy unconstitutional

2015-03-06 15:58
(File: AP)

(File: AP)

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Cape Town - Parliament's policy on the use of a wide-angle shot of the Chamber during grave disturbances and unparliamentary behaviour is patently unconstitutional, the Western Cape High Court heard on Friday.

Steven Budlender, for Primedia Broadcasting, argued that it was the constitutional right of every citizen to have an accurate representation of what occurred on the floor of the Chamber.

"What we say is that this is a case which involves the public's right for them to see for themselves what happens in Parliament, to see the way that their MPs conduct or misconduct themselves and how their Speaker or chair deals with this conduct," he told a full Bench of judges.

Having access to this information would allow citizens to make informed decisions about who they voted for, he said.

At present, the policy gave the parliamentary broadcasting director the discretion to use occasional wide-angle shots during cases of unparliamentary behaviour.

There was no provision for such a shot during a grave disturbance and the policy did not define what such a disturbance entailed.

Primedia, Media24, the SA National Editors' Forum, and two others parties are arguing for an urgent interim order enforcing uninterrupted audio and a wide-angle shot of the chamber during disruptions, pending final relief.

During President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address in Parliament on 12 February, the eviction of EFF MPs from the House was not broadcast.

Instead, the camera focused on Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise.

Before this happened, journalists and some MPs protested against cellphone signals being blocked in the House.

As a result of undertakings by Parliament, the applicants were no longer asking for interim relief to ensure there was no jamming of signal during sittings or meetings.

Urgent application

Budlender argued that the application was urgent, since Zuma would be answering questions next Wednesday, a situation in which the interim relief might already be needed.

In the final relief, likely to be argued next month, the applicants want any temporary order on the audio and wide-angle shot to be made final.

The applicants want the court to declare that the manner in which audio and visual feeds were produced on 12 February was unconstitutional and unlawful.

They also want the court to find invalid the section on grave disturbances and unparliamentary behaviour in Parliament's filming and broadcasting policy.

An order was also sought forcing Mbete, Modise, and Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana to investigate who was responsible for the signal jamming.

The outcome of the probe should be submitted to the court.

Budlender said Parliament's claims that its policy was in place to preserve dignity were unfounded.

"Why would a wide angle shot impugn the dignity of Parliament?" he asked.

Parliament's defence that its policy was based on international best practice could also not hold, since few other countries had a Constitution which insisted on an open and transparent Parliament.

Read more on:    primedia  |  sanef  |  jacob zuma  |  baleka mbete  |  cape town  |  state of the nation 2015  |  parliament 2015  |  media

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