Parliament engaged in censorship when its live television feed stopped showing scuffles between the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the police during the state of the nation address last year, instead focusing on Speaker Baleka Mbete’s face.
Primedia, the National Editors Forum, NGO Right to Know and the Open Democracy Centre yesterday asked the Supreme Court of Appeal to declare unconstitutional parliamentary rules that stop incidents of “grave disorder” being broadcast live.
Their advocate, Steven Budlender SC, said parliament’s broadcasting policy infringed on the right of the public to see what happened in the National Assembly.
In a sitting, the media relied on a single feed from parliament and when it was turned off or diverted, proceedings could not be shown.
Jeremy Gauntlett SC, for parliament and Mbete, said stopping the live feed of disorderly conduct did not stop people learning about the business of parliament, as journalists could still report on what had not been shown live.
He also said parliament’s rules restricting live broadcast in very limited circumstances were reasonable and made to protect the dignity of parliament and limit bad behaviour by MPs.
The media and NGOs also asked the court that the signal-jamming incident be declared unlawful.
State security agency advocate Francois van Zyl said the signal disruption had been a mistake as the signal jammer was supposed to be used by the agency to detect and stop drones which could have posed a security threat outside.
But Van Zyl could not guarantee that a signal jammer would never be used again by state security.
Judges said they needed to make a ruling on its use, as it could not be seen as only an historical incident.