An urgent application to prohibit the use of mobile network blocking devices in parliament got underway in the high court in Cape Town on Tuesday afternoon.
Primedia Broadcasting, Media24, the South African National Editors Forum, the Right to Know campaign and the Open Democracy Advice Centre are seeking an order compelling parliament to ensure the public, through the media, have full access to the state-of-the-nation (Sona) debate scheduled to start at 2pm on Tuesday.
The application is being brought in two parts.
Part A, according to court papers, involves an application for interim relief which would ensure there is no use of jamming devices in the national assembly chamber, and that the live video and audio feeds from the house are not interrupted.
Part B is an application for final relief.
The applicants want any temporary order preventing the use of jamming devices, as well as any order barring the interruption of the video and audio feeds, to be made permanent.
In addition, they want an order declaring that the use of jamming devices in the chamber is unlawful.
An order forcing national assembly speaker Baleka Mbete, national council of provinces chair Thandi Modise and secretary to parliament Gengezi Mgidlana to investigate who was responsible for the signal jamming is also being sought.
The outcome of the probe should be submitted to the court.
The applicants claim that several constitutional rights have been violated.
These include sections 16 and 32 which guarantees freedom of expression, and access to information.
They argue that the public’s right to access parliament, and be involved in its activities, as outlined in sections 59 and 72 of the constitution, was being infringed.
The application follows events in the National Assembly chamber on Thursday night.
The eviction of Economic Freedom Fighters’ MPs from the House was not broadcast. Instead, the camera focused on Mbete and Modise.
Before this happened, journalists and some MPs protested against cellphone signals being blocked in the house.
Around 25 journalists protested in the press gallery of the national assembly because they could not file their stories.
“Bring back the signal, bring back the signal,” they chanted, waving their cellphones at a black box which they believed was a jamming device.
Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters MPs joined in the chanting from the seats below, holding up their cellphones.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen, supported by the EFF and Freedom Front Plus, rose on a “point of order” to submit that the jamming violated the constitution.
The matter was resolved after Mbete said she would make sure Mgidlana looked into it. — Sapa