The DA on Thursday called on Speaker Baleka Mbete to make sure the cellphone signal in the National Assembly be re-established after it was jammed ahead of President Jacob Zuma’s state-of-the-nation address.
“Madam speaker I rise on a rule of order… to draw your attention to the fact that the cellphone feed has been jammed… I submit this is in direct violation of the… Constitution,” Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen said in the House.
He said it was also a violation of the Bill of Rights.
“The DA would like to request you to instruct whoever is responsible.. to please turn off that advice.” Mbete said she would make the secretary of Parliament follow up on the issues.
The DA’s call was supported by the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Freedom Front Plus.
EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu suggested that Mbete adjourn the House until the situation had been sorted out.
The Cape Town Press Club said Parliament’s presiding officers should comment on the jamming of cellphone signals inside the National Assembly ahead of President Jacob Zuma’s eighth state-of-the-nation address on Thursday.
“The Cape Town Press Club calls on the presiding officers of Parliament to urgently respond to rumours of signal blocking devices being used on the parliamentary precinct, ahead of President Zuma’s state-of-the-nation address this evening.
“Several reports have surfaced on social media, from journalists claiming to have found devices – believed to be signal blocking devices – in and around the National Assembly Chamber,” the press club said in a statement.
The press club said it would be writing to the Speaker and the chair of the NCOP to ask them to clarify whether devices were in fact used to jam signals and if so, what the purpose of the devices were.
“We need to know whether they were used for legitimate security purposes, or rather more disturbingly to clamp down on the media and attending guests’ constitutional right to free speech,” it said.
Two Sapa correspondents had to hang out of a second story window in Parliament to file. Male correspondents were queuing to get a spot in the men’s toilet, where they could briefly find signal.
Not wanting to be outdone, members of the Economic Freedom Fighters jumped out their seats to shout “bring back the signal”.
Around 25 journalists had launched a protest in the press gallery 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.
They were joined by Democratic Alliance and EFF MPs who chanted in their seats below and held up their cellphones.
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 EFF 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.