Court dismisses bid for uninterrupted Parliament feed

The high court in the Western Cape on Tuesday dismissed an urgent interim application for an order enforcing uninterrupted audio and a wide-angle shot of the parliamentary Chamber during disruptions.

Judge Owen Rogers delivered the order within a few minutes, announcing that interim relief against Parliament would not be granted and that the application for final relief would be heard on April 20.

Media24, Primedia Broadcasting, the South African National Editors’ Forum and others had argued that a suspension of one part of Parliament’s broadcasting policy was urgent because further disruption in Parliament was likely in the coming weeks.

Steven Budlender, for the applicants, argued last week that it was the constitutional right of every citizen to have an accurate representation of what occurred in the House. 

Jeremy Gauntlett, for Parliament, argued that not everything the public found interesting was in the public interest. Parliament also had a right to regulate its activities and preserve its dignity. At present, the policy gives the parliamentary broadcasting director the discretion to use occasional wide-angle shots during unparliamentary behaviour.


Sona disruptions
There is no provision for such a shot during a grave disturbance and the policy does not define what such a disturbance entails. During President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address in Parliament on February 12, the eviction of Economic Freedom Fighters MPs from the House was not broadcast. 

Instead the camera focused on Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise. Before this happened, journalists and some MPs protested against cellphone signals being blocked in the House. As a result of undertakings by Parliament, the applicants did not ask for interim relief to ensure there was no jamming of signal during sittings or meetings. 

However, they were asking for final relief regarding signal jamming.

Rogers, with Judges Elizabeth Baartman and Nape Dolamo, ruled that overall interim relief was not necessary because there was an absence of irreparable harm and the balance of convenience did not favour the applicants. 

The five minutes of restricted feed during disruptions did not weigh up to the five years that the broadcasting policy and measures had been in place. The media was not restricted from reporting on proceedings and any future disruptions in the House in the interim. 

“The applicants could have approached the court sooner; nevertheless, we are persuaded that the matter warrants an expedited hearing, being sufficiently urgent and involving constitutional issues of national importance,” the judgment reads.

Final order
In the final relief, the applicants wanted any temporary order on the audio and wide-angle shot to be made final. The applicants wanted the court to declare that the manner in which audio and visual feeds were produced on February 12 was unconstitutional and unlawful. 

They wanted the court to find invalid the section on grave disturbances and unparliamentary behaviour in Parliament’s filming and broadcasting policy. An order forcing Mbete, 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. 

In the judgment on Tuesday, the judges said it would be premature to pronounce on the constitutionality of the policy’s provisions. Each party was ordered to pay its own costs in light of the constitutional issues at hand. – Sapa

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