Media challenge Parly signal blockers in court

An urgent interim relief application will be lodged by media houses in the Western Cape High Court.

FILE: Members of the media gathered in their numbers, patiently waiting for President Zuma to arrive at the State of the Nation Address on 12 February 2015. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN

CAPE TOWN - An urgent interim relief application lodged by media houses challenging the jamming of the cellphone signal in Parliament ahead of President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address (Sona) last week is expected to get underway in the Western Cape High Court shortly.

The application, which was initiated by Primedia Broadcasting, is in a bid 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.

They're asking the court to force National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete to ensure there won't be a repeat of last week's telecommunications blackout.

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

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

The document submitted describes the use of signal jamming devices as unlawful and in some circumstances during an open sitting of Parliament, unconstitutional.

It also clearly states journalists deprived of access to these tools are hamstrung and their ability to do their jobs is severely comprised.

The media houses also want assurances that both visual and audio feeds from Parliament will not be cut when sittings become dramatic.