Parliament to investigate signal jam

Parliament said it will investigate “issues” which arose during the State of the Nation address on Thursday evening including mobile phone connectivity.

Parliament’s presiding officers, speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise, have requested Secretary to Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, to look into two incidents, it said in a statement.

The incidents include “problems with mobile phone connectivity” and a malfunctioning microphone at the podium.

“Although the organisation of the event in the main proceeded well, it was hosted in the context of a number of challenges,” Parliament said.

The African National Congress on Friday condemned the jamming of the cellphone signal in Parliament during President Zuma’s address.

“[The] ANC condemns the jamming of the signal last night in Parliament. [The] ANC supports the free flow of information and media freedom,” national spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) said only the country’s security cluster departments were permitted to use jamming devices.

“The national security cluster departments may, where supported by relevant security legislation, deploy the use of jammers in relation to, among others, state security functions,” spokesman Paseka Maleka said in a statement.

Around 25 journalists launched a protest in the press gallery of the National Assembly on Thursday evening because they did not have cellphone reception to file their stories.

“Bring back the signal, bring back the signal,” they chanted, waving their cellphones at an electronic black box which was believed to be a jamming device.

Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters MPs joined in the chanting from their seats below, also holding up their cellphones.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen rose on a “rule of order” to submit that the jamming was “in direct violation of the… Constitution”.

The DA was supported by the EFF and the Freedom Front Plus.

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete said she would make sure the secretary of Parliament looked into the issue.

Icasa welcomed this. Maleka said Icasa would liaise with Parliament on the outcome of the investigation.

“Should it deem it necessary, the authority may also institute its own investigation into the matter.”

Media houses were considering not reporting on the address unless the signal was restored.

Two Sapa correspondents had to hang out of a second storey window in Parliament to file copy. Male correspondents queued for a spot in the men’s toilet, where a signal could briefly be found.

The SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) also condemned the jamming.

“This disrupts the functioning of the media particularly as journalists are filing using cellphone signal for digital platforms, sending pictures back to their main offices and updating Facebook and Twitter accounts for various publications,” said Sanef executive director Mthatha Tsedu.

Many journalists complained on Twitter that once they had entered the House they could no longer use their cellphones.

Tsedu said if Parliament refused to unjam the signal it would amount to censorship. The signal was restored before President Jacob Zuma presented his address.

Reporting with Sapa.

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Parliament to investigate signal jam