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Sanef Media Statement on the violation of Media Freedom in Parliament

The South African National Editors’ Forum is outraged by the shocking, illegal clampdown on freedom of expression in Parliament during the State of the Nation address on Thursday night. We believe these unconstitutional actions were an attempt by both the legislature and the executive to prevent journalists from telling the nation the full version of Thursday nights’ events.

1) In an unprecedented move, cellphone scrambling devices were installed in Parliament to block any communication from inside Parliament. We have reason to believe that the executive, particularly the security agencies of the country, took the unlawful decisions to block the signal in contravention of the Electronic Communications Act.
2) Parliament refused to show the eviction of members of parliament by security officials who were called in by Speaker Baleka Mbete. Sanef previously wrote to the office of the Speaker and met with officials from her office to request that the coverage of proceedings should not be limited to what parliament regards as the “business of parliament”, but broadened to show the South African public everything that happens in the house, in accordance with the constitutional principle of openness, transparency, accountability and the right to know.
3) Sanef is further outraged by the intimidation of journalists and attempts by security officials to prevent reporters from conducting interviews with MPs who had just been ejected from Parliament. Journalists were threatened with arrest and withdrawal of their accreditation.

Sanef has decided at its council meeting today to initiate the following actions in response to this despicable, shocking and unprecedented assault on our freedoms and rights.

• We will approach the courts to prevent any future attempts by state security agencies from unlawfully blocking communications signals aimed at interfering with journalist’s constitutionally protected rights and freedoms
• We also want the courts to compel Parliament to allow broadcasters to install their own TV cameras in Parliament to cover the proceedings fairly and openly. This after parliament refused our request to do so.
• We will challenge the refusal by the office of the speaker to provide unedited footage of the proceedings of Parliament.
• We demand a meeting with the speaker and President Jacob Zuma, as head of the executive, for a full explanation, an investigation and an assurance that the rights and freedoms of the media and the public shall not be violated again.

For further comment, contact:
Mpumelelo Mkhabela Sanef Chairperson: 082 296 2541
Adriaan Basson Sanef Media Freedom Chair: 082 562 2113
Moshoeshoe Monare Sanef Council Member: 079 513 5153