Mbete: Parliament doesn’t own a scrambling device

Baleka Mbete and other presiding officers briefed journalists on signal jamming during last week's Sona.

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete attends a press briefing on 17 February 2015. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN

CAPE TOWN - National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete says Parliament does not own any scrambling devices and did not order any signals to be interfered with during President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address (Sona) last week.

She explained that a department of state security (in this instance the National Intelligence Agency) owned the device that was used to scramble cell phone signals.

Mbete together with other presiding officers is briefing journalists in Parliament.

She says the media was never intended to be a target of preparations for Zuma's address.

Mbete has come under a barrage of questions about the chaos that unfolded in the National Assembly chamber and her reference to Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema as a cockroach.

She says Parliament itself had nothing to do with the scrambling of the cellphone signal that saw journalists and Members of Parliament (MPs) unite in protest.

"One issue I want to make one point very clear is the media as far as Parliament is concerned was never a target or an issue in relation to the preparations of the Sona."

At the same time, Deputy Speaker of National Assembly Lechesa Tsenoli told Eyewitness News , "What was scrambled has been unscrambled" and the presiding officers had no knowledge of what the machine actually did.

"We do not have that responsibility, we are technical people like any other political committee it has political and technical people. Now the operations, what they do every step of the way is not what we are going to be told."

Before the president's address last Thursday, cellphone coverage dropped in Parliament and those in the public gallery, many of whom were journalists, could not access WiFi.

Journalists started chanting 'bring back the signal' when they realised they couldn't send any information out from their devices.

Watch: 'Bring back the signal' . Ahead of the Sona, MPs demanded that cellphone signal be restored.

Mbete insists the media was not a target by referring to a member of the opposition as an insect, and says the comment was made at an ANC event and the party, of which she is national chairperson, had to respond.

An urgent interim relief application lodged by media houses challenging the jamming of the cellphone signal in Parliament ahead of the Sona last week will be heard in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.

The application, which was initiated by Primedia Broadcasting, aims to prevent this from happening again.

An affidavit submitted to the court by, among others, Primedia Broadcasting, the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) and Media 24, argues for the right to be free of signal jamming in the National Assembly.

Pictures by Thomas Holder/EWN