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Judgement reserved in parly feed case

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Judgment in an urgent interim application to enforce uninterrupted audio and a wide-angle shot of the parliamentary Chamber during disruptions was reserved by the Western Cape High Court on Friday.

Judge Elizabeth Baartman, sitting with Judges Nape Dolamo and Owen Rogers, said arguments by media houses, organisations, and Parliament would be considered.

The application was brought by Primedia Broadcasting, Media24, the SA National Editors’ Forum, the Right2Know Campaign, and the Open Democracy Advice Centre.

They were seeking an interim order pending a hearing for final relief.

The respondents are National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, National Council of Provinces Chairwoman Thandi Modise, Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana, and State Security Minister David Mahlobo.

Arguments on Friday centred on the distinction between public education and entertainment, and whether Parliament’s broadcasting policy is constitutional and in the public interest.

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

There is no provision for such a shot during a grave disturbance and the policy does not define what such a disturbance entails.

Jeremy Gauntlett, for Parliament, argued that not everything the public found interesting was in the public interest.

He said the policy on the use of wide-angle shots was a form of “anticipatory control”.

Parliament had a right and responsibility to control unrestrained situations where hate speech might be broadcast or where there could be violence or demonstrations, he said.

He referred to the fatal stabbing of former prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd in the old National Assembly chamber on September 6, 1966, as an example of a grave disturbance.

The policy on live feed did not restrict media in the Chamber from documenting such events for posterity, he said.

Steven Budlender, for the applicants, 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 said.

Having access to this information would allow citizens to make informed decisions about for whom they voted.

During President Jacob Zuma’s state-of-the-nation address in Parliament on February 12, the eviction of Economic Freedom Fighters MPs from the House was not broadcast. Instead the camera focused on Mbete and 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.

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

In the final relief, the applicants wanted any temporary order on the audio and wide-angle shot to be made final.

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

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

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

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

The parties were to request that the hearing for final relief take place on April 21 and April 22. SAPA

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