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Parly jamming case postponed

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An urgent application to prohibit the use of mobile network blocking devices in Parliament was postponed in the High Court in Cape Town on Tuesday afternoon.

The postponement follows negotiations between lawyers for Parliament and those for media houses Primedia Broadcasting and Media24.

“Regrettably, those negotiations have failed,” Steven Budlender, for Primedia Broadcasting, told the court.

Norman Arendse, for Parliament, submitted an unsigned affidavit from Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana, in which assurances are made that jamming devices would not be used in future.

However, parties could not reach agreement on the live video and audio feeds from the House, which the applicants do not want interrupted.

Parliament would defend its policy on video and audio feeds, which states feeds can be interrupted when there is “grave disorder” in the House.

Judge Elize Steyn said she was loathe to hear the case on Tuesday as Arendse and his colleagues had a right to defend their clients.

Arendse was given until next Monday to file his responding papers. The case would be heard on February 26.

The applicants in the case are Primedia Broadcasting, Media24, the SA National Editors’ Forum, the Right2Know campaign, and the Open Democracy Advice Centre.

The application is being brought in two parts.

Part A, according to court papers, involves an application for interim relief which will ensure there is no use of jamming devices in the National Assembly Chamber, and that the live video and audio feeds from the House are not interrupted.

Part B is an application for final relief. The applicants want any temporary order preventing the use of jamming devices, as well as any order barring the interruption of the video and audio feeds, to be made permanent.

In addition, they want an order declaring that the use of jamming devices in the Chamber is unlawful.

An order forcing National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi 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 applicants claim that several constitutional rights have been violated. These include sections 16 and 32 of the Constitution, which guarantee freedom of expression and access to information.

They argue that the public’s right to access Parliament, and be involved in its activities, as outlined in sections 59 and 72 of the Constitution, is being infringed.

On Thursday night, 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.

Around 25 journalists protested in the press gallery of the Assembly because they could not file their stories.

“Bring back the signal, bring back the signal,” they chanted, waving their cellphones at a black box which they believed was a jamming device.

Democratic Alliance and EFF MPs joined in the chanting from their seats below, holding up their cellphones.

DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen supported by the EFF and Freedom Front Plus, rose on a point of order to submit that the jamming violated the Constitution.

The matter was resolved after Mbete said she would make sure Mgidlana looked into it. SAPA

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