Around 25 journalists launched a protest in the press gallery of the National Assembly on Thursday evening (12/02/15) over not having any cellphone reception to file their stories.
“Bring back the signal, bring back the signal,” they chanted, waving their cellphones at an electronic black box believed to be jamming signal. Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters MPs joined in the chanting from their seats below, also holding up their cellphones.
EFF leader Julius Malema held up his red-covered iPad as he joined in. The media sent deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa, to call President Jacob Zuma’s spokesman from a nearby gallery to complain.
Mamoepa said Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj could not come to address journalists.
Parliamentary staff said they had been trying to address the problem for half an hour. “This is unbelievable. How can they do this?” said former deputy foreign affairs Minister Aziz Pahad, when he walked past the press gallery and learned of the problem.
Media houses were considering not reporting on the state-of-the-nation address in Cape Town at 7pm unless the signal was restored. Two Sapa correspondents had to hang out of a second story window in parliament to file.
Male correspondents were chewing to get a spot in the men’s toilet, where they could briefly find signal. The SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) condemned the jamming of cellphone signals inside the National Assembly.
“This disrupts the functioning of the media particularly as journalists are filing using cellphone signal for digital platforms, sending pictures back to their main offices and updating Facebook and Twitter accounts for various publications,” Sanef executive director Mthatha Tsedu said.
“We call on the leadership of Parliament to reverse this decision immediately in the interest of a free and democratic Parliament which is the cornerstone of our democracy.”
Many journalists complained on Twitter that once they had entered the House they could no longer use their cellphones. Tsedu said if Parliament refused to unjam the signal it would amount to censorship.
“[They will be] censoring what South Africans must see or hear or read about what will be happening today [Thursday].” The Economic Freedom Fighters has vowed to disrupt Zuma’s address unless a special sitting of the National Assembly is scheduled beforehand for him to answer questions about the upgrades to his private homestead at Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal.
There is a probability that if the House descends into chaos like last year that the parliamentary in-house television feed could be cut. Tsedu said Sanef had been in talks with Parliament regarding this.
“We have said to them if they are going to cut the feed when other interesting things are happening they should allow others such as SABC or ANN7 or others to bring in their own cameras,” he said.