The South African National Editors’ Forum strongly condemns events which unfolded in Parliament this week during President Jacob Zuma’s State of The Nation address, which often saw journalists restricted in their work.
There was a heavy security presence consisting of members of the SAPS, SANDF and SSA – that included heavily armed military police – which created a climate of intimidation.
Some journalists were intermittently prevented from doing their jobs as SONA events unfolded, including during the dramatic ejection of parliamentarians.
Civilian clothed police officials prevented camera persons and journalists from freely moving through parliamentary corridors.
Journalists based at Parliament’s media offices were hampered from leaving and returning to their offices as a line of riot police blocked off the access road.
Police also attempted to prevent some photographers from capturing scenes in the precinct.
There appears to have been confusion by individual members of the security establishment who adopted a haphazard approach and who appeared not to be aware of assurances that the media would not be obstructed.
SANEF is deeply concerned by these events as we view it as a security crackdown on the media, in the wake of the broader securitisation of what ought to be the ‘People’s Parliament’. Security measures, including a greater role played by the State Security Agency, appear to have increased year-on-year since 2015.
At a media briefing, a week before SONA, secretary to Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana told journalists that there’s no foundation to the securitisation of Parliament and that there’s no basis of fact to the concerns raised by the media.
Throughout the build-up to SONA, Parliamentary officials dismissed all the concerns raised by both the Press Gallery Association (PGA) and SANEF, promising there would not be any restrictions on journalists who were doing their work.
National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise on the eve of SONA went a step further, saying Parliament would like the media to do their work “without fear”.
Under clause 4 of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act, security services may only be at Parliament “under the authority” of the presiding officers.
SANEF has always understood and abided by special measures implemented in the past during special events like SONA.
SANEF calls on Parliament’s political and administrative leadership to seriously reconsider and review the progressive heightening of security measures and securitisation at Parliament.
We continue to support the PGA’s right to work in an environment free of fear and intimidation and will urgently raise this matter with parliamentary officials and the police.
Mahlatse Gallens (chair): 083 399 2852
Katy Katopodis (deputy chair): 082 805 7022
Sam Mkokeli (media freedom chair): 082 084 2051