Supreme Court of Appeal asked to rule against Parliament's censors
Media groups and NGOs took the issues of parliamentary signal-jamming and censoring of live broadcasts to the SCA yesterday, notes Legalbrief. Primedia‚ the SA National Editors Forum‚ the Right2Know Campaign and the Open Democracy Advice Centre approached the court to ensure live broadcasts from Parliament were not censored and that signal jamming devices were not used to block journalists using mobile phones, as had been the case during EFF disruptions of President Jacob Zuma’s State of Nation Address in February 2015.
A BDlive report notes Parliament has rules that when there are scenes of ‘grave disorder’‚ it can turn off the live feed. But the media and NGO goups asked the SCA to rule that these parliamentary rules, which they say ‘violate the principle of an open Parliament’, be deemed ‘invalid and unconstitutional’. Acting for Parliament‚ Advocate Jeremy Gauntlet SC argued that ‘responsible broadcasting was key to maintaining the authority and dignity of Parliament’.
He also argued that when the live feed was cut during serious disruptions‚ it did not affect the transparency of Parliament as viewers were not stopped from seeing lawmaking or important events. ‘The behaviour that would be broadcast is not parliamentary behaviour. It is the antithesis of parliamentary behaviour,’ read the legal papers. But this is ‘censorship’ said Advocate Steven Budlender SC‚ acting for the four organisations. ‘It is a stance by Parliament that says public don’t want to see for themselves what happens,’ he said.
Budlender also asked that the signal jamming that took place be declared unlawful. The Minister of State Security argued that the use of the signal device was for security and it was left on too long by mistake‚ which is why it interrupted transmission from Parliament. He asked‚ via Advocate Francois van Zyl SC‚ that the court decline from ruling on the signal jamming incident. This is because it had been a mistake and it would not happen again.
But, notes the BDlive report, the NGOs and media group want a message sent to the Minister of State Security that he does not have unlimited power to use security measures to interfere with the functioning of Parliament. This is because Parliament is supposed to be separate and hold the government to account‚ which it cannot do if the government uses security measures to disrupt how Parliament works.
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