Sanef heads to court over violation of media freedom in Parliament

2015-02-14 14:55
Sanef chairperson Mpumelelo Mkhabela, Beeld editor Adriaan Basson, Mthatha Tsedu attend a Sanef briefing about the signal scrambler at the State of the Nation address. (Roy McKenzie, News24)

Sanef chairperson Mpumelelo Mkhabela, Beeld editor Adriaan Basson, Mthatha Tsedu attend a Sanef briefing about the signal scrambler at the State of the Nation address. (Roy McKenzie, News24)

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Cape Town – The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) has expressed its outrage at the illegal clampdown on freedom of expression during the State of the Nation address in Parliament on Thursday night, and plans to approach the courts and seek a meeting with President Jacob Zuma and Speaker Baleka Mbete as soon as possible in order to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Sanef held its quarterly national council meeting in Cape Town on Saturday, and resolved to institute a number of actions in response to “this despicable, shocking and unprecedented assault on our freedoms and rights”.

It said the installation of cellphone scrambling devices to block communication from inside Parliament was unprecedented and in contravention of the Electronic Communications Act. Editors said they have reason to believe this unlawful decision was taken by security agencies. “If the state security apparatus was used to block communication from Parliament, that is a grave concern,” said Beeld editor Adriaan Basson.

Intimidation

Sanef also said the refusal by Parliament to show the eviction of MPs from the House by security officials went against its request to Speaker Baleka Mbete’s office that the coverage of proceedings be broadened to show everything that happens inside, in line with the constitutional principles of openness and transparency. “Shifting cameras can’t be at the discretion of presiding officers who decide what the public can see,” said Sanef chairperson Mpumelelo Mkhabela.

The intimidation of journalists, who were threatened with arrest and the withdrawal of their accreditation when they tried to interview ejected MPs, was also outrageous, Sanef said.

Mkhabela said on Saturday that Sanef will approach the courts to prevent future blocking of signals and interference of journalists’ rights and freedoms.

“We think it’s a winnable case, the constitutional principles are very clear. Our lawyers are going to guide us on how best to proceed,” he said.

Sanef will also request that the courts to compel Parliament to allow broadcasters to install their own cameras in order to cover proceedings fairly and openly, and seek unedited footage of proceedings in Parliament.

The forum will seek a full explanation from the Speaker and president, as well as an assurance that the rights and freedoms of the media not be violated again.

‘Our democracy is in decline’

The events in Parliament on Thursday night “are a sign that our democracy is in decline”, said Mkhabela. “It’s not about voting only, it’s also about other values such as openness, and the media’s right to broadcast what they think South Africans should see, what their representatives are doing in Parliament.

“We are fighting for our right to do our work in a free environment that is uninterrupted. There is nothing that we are saying that is outside that framework. In fact, politicians who have a vested interest in an open democracy should support the call by the media to operate freely. That is one of the things that distinguishes South Africans form phoney democracies elsewhere,” said Mkhabela.

Sanef is in consultation with legal teams, and the legal challenge will be launched within the next few days, according to Basson.

Media companies including eNCA, EWN and Media24 have joined forces in this legal challenge.

Read more on:    sanef  |  adriaan basson  |  jacob zuma  |  baleka mbete  |  media  |  state of the nation 2015  |  parliament 2015  |  politics

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