The DA says Parliament has the responsibility to protect South Africans’ right to information. The party has responded to the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal that the jamming of telecommunications signals during the 2015 State-of-the-Nation-Address, as well as the cutting of the live television feed, was both unconstitutional and unlawful.
The ruling is in favour of groups including Sanef and the Right2Know campaign. They took the matter to court after calling it a violation of the public’s right to information.
The DA’s John Steenhuizen says they welcome the judgment. “Obviously this is another blow for the presiding officers in Parliament who should be impartial and should be protecting and entrenching the constitution and upholding the institution of Parliament. Instead they have sacrificed this in the hopes of protecting President Jacob Zuma at all costs. The time for presiding officers protecting the executive and the president is well passed now. We need them to protect the institution of Parliament, the constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the people of the Republic.”
Meanwhile, the ANC says it is now up to Parliament to decide how to proceed with broadcasting policies. The ANC Caucus spokesperson Moloto Mothapo says they never supported the jamming of signals in the House.
Full Sanef Statement:
The South African National Editors Forum welcomes the decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal of ordering the censoring of broadcast of commotion in Parliament as unconstitutional. This is a victory for openness and transparency.
Sanef, Primedia Broadcasting and other civil society organisations had appealed a decision of the Western Cape high court which had ruled that such censoring was constitutional.
The matter followed the signal jamming of cellphones at the opening of Parliament in February 2015 and the failure of the Parliamentary broadcast feed to reflect the commotion that ensued later. The television feed provided by Parliament to national broadcasters only showed the face of the Speaker during the disorder
Parliament said this was in line with its rules which stated that unruly behavior should not be shown. Sanef raised objections to these rules even before the State of The Nation address but our protests fell on deaf ears. Following the commotion in Parliament an urgent court application was lodged in Cape Town seeking firstly that the jamming of the cellphone signal be declared unlawful and unconstitutional; and secondly that the rules of Parliament that prohibited the full broadcast of proceedings, including commotions, was a violation of the right of the public to be fully informed of proceedings in the House.
The Western Cape high court full bench heard the case and the majority declined our plea, with one judge dissenting. The matter was then taken on appeal to the SCA which gave its ruling today.
The ruling by Appeals Court Judge CH Lewis states amongst others that: “ The rules and policy adopted by Parliament governing the broadcast of disorder in the Parliamentary Chamber violates the public’s right to open Parliament and are unconstitutional and unlawful. The disruption of the cellphone signal….was unlawful”.
What this victory for transparency means is that henceforth if there is disorder in Parliament the feed provided to broadcasters by Parliament should reflect the full picture of what is happening and not focus on the face of the presiding officer.
The ruling also means the state security apparatus can no longer jam signals at will in Parliament. All these mean that the ability of the media to fully inform the public on issues of public interest is enhanced and Sanef calls on Parliament to immediately implement the ruling.