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OPINION - Parliamentary privilege

Opinion

It’s all in a day’s work for EWN’s Parliamentary Reporter Catherine Rice.

I have only known one career since leaving university - journalism.

I started out in radio at CapeTalk, then moved on to become a TV journalist, before taking a break while bringing my two children into the world. I am now back where I began - very much a homecoming for me.

Much of my journalism career has been focussed on crime. I have spent endless hours in court, watching some of the most notorious cases unfold - from the baby Jordan murder trial, to the as yet unsolved Inge Lotz murder case. From the urban terrorism Pagad cases, to Helen Zille's defamation case against Julius Malema.

I have been fortunate to see our justice system at work first hand, warts and all. During the course of reporting on these cases, I have witnessed some of our most brilliant legal minds at work, and I have followed their meticulous logic and fine attention to detail when arguing their cases with awe.

However, I am now facing a very new and daunting challenge - reporting from the ultimate corridors of power, Parliament. Life as a parliamentary reporter could not be more different to any other area of journalism. There is a daily challenge of doing my best to wade through pages and pages of briefing documents which arrive in a continuous stream to my inbox. Contrary to what some might believe, reporting from parliament is not primarily focussed on the activities in the National Assembly. Far more time consuming are the committee meetings to which the media is invited. The media corps at Parliament is a formidable one, both in stature and experience. It is clear, when attending media briefings, that some of our country's most experienced journalists have made Parliament their home. As a newbie, it is clear that I will have my work cut out to match the standards being set by my parliamentary colleagues.

As an example of the life of a parliamentary correspondent, here is what the media corps experienced with regards to the National Development Plan and the recommendations that had been made for providing a strategic vision for South Africa for the years ahead. On a Wednesday morning at 8am journalists were placed in a ‘soft lock up’. In a soft lock up, journalists are given information in advance of the official release time, to enable them to prepare their pieces in readiness for the release. In this particular case, we were briefed for an hour by officials from the National Planning Commission, who fielded our questions.

The ambitious plan is designed to radically reduce the country’s unemployment rate, currently the biggest challenge facing South Africa in terms of infrastructure. It’s intended to cut the unemployment rate to six percent by 2030, a goal that has been met with some degree of scepticism in certain quarters.

After our initial briefing, we watched National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel present his recommendations to the National Assembly, followed by President Zuma accepting it. Immediately afterwards, Trevor Manuel briefed journalists on the more than 400 page document which we had all received.

In any journalistic sphere, speed is of the essence. The media compete with each another to be the first to release breaking news. At CapeTalk we pride ourselves in bringing news to our listeners as and when it happens, sometimes breaking into regular programming to keep our audience up to date. 

Our briefing by Trevor Manuel finished at 2 o'clock. CapeTalk was able to report the essence of the National Planning Commission's vision for utopia as soon as the embargo was lifted, immediately after President Zuma's acceptance.

The life of a parliamentary correspondent is not an easy one. In between committee meetings and attending the National Assembly debates you are required to file throughout the day, supported by tweets on twitter whenever possible. 

But, it is with a real sense of privilege that I file my reports, being on the spot and up to the minute with the ground-breaking decisions that affect all of our lives as South Africans.

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