Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Parliament is not the Jerry Springer show.

Cape Town - Unparliamentary behaviour and grave disorder in the National Assembly are the antithesis of parliamentary business and should therefore not be broadcast to the public, the Western Cape High Court heard on Monday.

Jeremy Gauntlett said his client, Parliament, was under no obligation to broadcast such incidents involving a member's conduct because it impaired its ability to conduct its business in an orderly and acceptable manner.

"It is not the Jerry Springer show, it is an institution," he argued.

"If what is going on is being graphically seen, down to every offensive swearword, every exposed portion of the human anatomy... it does not follow that it is something which is consistent with the business of parliament."
Parliament is not the Jerry Springer show.
Media24, Primedia, the SA National Editors' Forum and two other parties were challenging a clause in Parliament's broadcasting policy that dealt with coverage of unparliamentary behaviour and grave disorder.

The applicants wanted the court to find this clause unconstitutional and invalid, and for Parliament to be instructed to treat incidents of grave disorder in the same way as unparliamentary behaviour.

They also wanted the court to find that the use of a signal jamming device during President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address on February 12 was unlawful.

Presently, the policy gives a broadcasting director the discretion to use occasional wide-angle shots during cases of unparliamentary behaviour.
No provision is made for shots during a grave disturbance and the policy does not define what is considered a grave disturbance.

The application followed the eviction of Economic Freedom Fighters MPs from Parliament during the State of the Nation address, which was not broadcast.

The parliamentary feed that day instead focused on Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise.

Some journalists took cellphone footage of the incident, in contravention of Parliament's policy, but could not file stories in the chamber because the signal seemed to be jammed. Gauntlett argued on Monday that Parliament had attempted to strike a balance between maintaining order and allowing freedom of expression in its policy.

"Do we just black out? Unlike Eskom, the answer is no. You will see her [Mbete] controlling the situation as best as she can, you will hear as much as you can through the audio but you will not see through these powerful strong means, what is the abhorrent behaviour."

The media could still observe and write about all activities in the house.

Gauntlett added that Parliament had to have the ability to determine how it ran with the necessary separation of powers.
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