The recent jamming of cellphones at the start of the State of the Nation (SONA) showed that those in the Presidency think they can do as they please, although after initially denying it, the blame was quickly shifted to the security cluster.
But did they consider that the media and even MPs would write it off as simply a glitch in the three cellphone networks?
Another question is, was the Minister of Communication consulted and if so did she approve the jamming? I guess we will never know! The Minister has a lot of other questions to answer.
Why did the SABC stop broadcasting footage of the removal of a group of MPs and why were signals from some other TV stations interfered with? Why did the Parliamentary channel on DSTV stop broadcasting during the upheaval?
From a practical point of view there is no problem having one signal coming out of Parliament, but then is should not be censored by government agencies!
ICASA was quick to issue a cautious statement the next day. It read “The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (“the Authority”) has noted the purported jamming of communication signals during the joint sitting of Parliament on the occasion of State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2015.
The Authority’s position with regards to the use of jamming devices is outlined in the Findings and Conclusions Document on the Enquiry into Mobile Telephone Blocking Devices (Government Gazette No. 24123, Notice 3266 of 28 November 2002).
The position of the Authority on this matter is as follows:
- The use of jamming devices by any entity other than National Security Cluster Departments is not authorised and or permitted.
- The National Security Cluster departments may, where supported by relevant security legislation, deploy the use of jammers in relation to, amongst others, State
The Authority welcomes the Speaker’s pronouncement that Parliament will investigate this matter. The Authority will liaise with Parliament on the outcome of the investigation. Should it deem it necessary, the Authority may also institute its own investigation into the matter.”
My question to the Speaker is: “What is there to investigate” Does she think that the public is so naïve as to buy the story that she was not aware of the order given to jam cellphone reception? I doubt if the jamming equipment is permanently installed in Parliament – so it was likely planned, installed and tested a few days before the SONA address.
As indicated by ICASA, it can only happen by instruction from the National Security Cluster if it is supported by relevant security legislation.
So what is the outcome of the Parliamentary investigation likely to be? It is somewhat of a conundrum. If the outcome is that the decision of the deployment of jammers was in relation to a state security function, then the question is, did the security threat evaporate before the address even started?