A high court has ruled that it could not find any blame that could be attributed to Parliament relating to an alleged signal jamming of mobile devices during President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address in February.
During the presidents address, the eviction of Economic Freedom Fighters MPs from the House was not broadcast, which led to complaints by Media24, Primedia Broadcasting, the SA National Editors’ Forum, and others.
Parliament said in a statement on Wednesday (28 May), that an application to the Western Cape High Court to compel it to provide broadcast feed of all incidents during House sittings, was dismissed.
Parliament’s Policy on Filming and Broadcasting, in operation since 2009, regulates recordings of Parliamentary proceedings for public broadcasting that is in the public interest and related to the main business of Parliament.
“This broadcasting should also be in conformity with acceptable standards of dignity, appropriate behaviour and conduct,” Parliament said.
The court found that, while the media has an important role to play, the limitation (in the policy) does not amount to a prohibition.
“Parliament has the right to protect its dignity and to ensure that its legitimate business is broadcast … This does not amount to censorship”.
“When a member obstructs or disputes Parliament’s proceedings or unreasonably impairs Parliament’s ability to conduct its business in an orderly and regular manner acceptable in a democratic society, that member’s conduct is not legitimate Parliamentary business. What it does is that it undermines rather than promotes the proper functioning of Parliament and the fulfilment of its constitutional obligations.
“Accordingly, there is no obligation on Parliament to broadcast conduct that clearly obstructs or disrupts its proceedings and conduct that unreasonably impairs its ability to conduct its business in an orderly and regular manner acceptable in a democratic society simply because such conduct is not legitimate Parliamentary business.
“The measures under discussion are ‘reasonable measures’ employed to regulate public access, including access of the media, to Parliament. When one contrasts this with the suggestion from the Applicants … that Parliament must feed for broadcasting visuals of the grossest behaviour and gravest disorder without limitation the latter is and remains unreasonable.”
“Regarding the jamming device used on 12 February, the court could not find any blame that could be attributed to Parliament,” the statement said.
“The court’s view was that courts should guide against conduct which can be described as an intrusion in terms of the constitutional domain of Parliament which is not only unprecedented but has constitutional implications.”
It said that the application to declare the policy unconstitutional raised crucial issues:
- Whether Parliament should determine how it wishes to project its business.
- Whether Parliament’s Constitutional obligation to provide information that is in the public interest is being achieved in terms of the policy.
Parliament said it has always conducted its business in an open manner, holds its sittings in public and has facilitated public access, including that of the media, to the work of the National Assembly, National Council of Provinces and their committees.