‘NIA responsible for Sona signal jamming’

Norman Arendse said presiding officers of Parliament were not responsible for the communication blackout.

Screengrab from the 'bring back the signal' chant by media and MPs in Parliament during Sona 2015. Picture: EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - It has emerged in The Western Cape High Court that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) was responsible for Thursday's signal jamming in Parliament.

Representing Parliament, Norman Arendse has described the debacle as a "once off".

Arendse told the court that presiding officers of Parliament were not responsible for the communication blackout at the State of the Nation Address (Sona), but confirmed that the NIA was behind the jamming device in the National Assembly.

Arendse indicated the lawyer for the Minister of State Security would speak further on the matter at a later stage.

The court postponed an urgent interim relief application initiated by Primedia Broadcasting, together with other media houses, to next Thursday.

The document submitted by media houses subscribed the use of signal jamming devices as an "unlawful" and, in some circumstances during an open sitting of Parliament, "unconstitutional".

The lawyer representing the media houses, Dario Milo, said he was pleased that there had been an undertaking from Parliament because "this should never have happened".

"There is at least clarity because there's now an undertaking by Parliament, which was made in the answering affidavit service this morning, in which the judge recorded. And that undertaking is that Parliament will ensure that this does not happen again. It has never happened in our Parliamentary history. It's unprecedented and it shouldn't have happened.

Earlier National Assembly Speaker, Baleka Mbete, said Parliament did not own any devices able to scramble cell phone signals.

Mbete also said Parliament didn't order the use of such a device, and insisted its installation was not aimed at hampering the media's ability to do its job.

Mbete was repeatedly asked by journalist to name the owners and installers of the signal jammer that blocked cellphone signal in the chamber last Thursday.

"Those consent will issue a report to Parliament and they will also address the media themselves."

Mbete did not identify those involved. Going only so far as to say it was a department of state.

"But I repeat the media was never a target."

Mbete did not reveal who the intended target was. It has also emerged that presiding officers were briefed last Wednesday about a device that would be used to "protect" President Jacob Zuma.