Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is outraged by the events that took place during the State of the Nation Address (SONA). Specifically, the jamming of cell phone signals and the subsequent attack of media on twitter from an account believed to belong to the Minister of social development. These events, together with the lack of support for the call to “bring back the signal” form the ANC clearly indicate that the ruling party is clamping down on transparency and is pushing for secrecy. SONA is a prestigious event in our country that should be taken seriously, it is through the SONA that citizens are supposed to be given a chance to reflect, on what their government of choice has done and areas in which they need to improve. Yesterday, citizens saw the SONA being turned into a circus, while politicians played their part in this circus; the efforts to hamper freedom of expression are fundamentally unacceptable.
MMA is disheartened by the attempted use of a cellphone signal scrambling device in order to prevent all attending the SONA, including journalists, from transmitting any kind of information during the proceedings. MMA sees this as a direct violation to the rights that all in South Africa should enjoy; these being the right to freely express and exchange information and ideas. That such an offensive crime was carried out in parliament serves to highlight how misguided the effort to limit media freedom was. Parliament represents the epitome of our democratic state and as such it should allow the maximum degree of freedom of expression tolerable with the confines of our constitution. The question that arises is who placed the jammers, who authorised them and to whose benefit? It is critical that parliament finds clear and transparent answers to these questions if they are to retain any measure of public trust.
MMA commends ICASA for engaging parliament on this and hopes that ICASA will also investigate this matter, especially because ICASA as the regulator prohibits “The use of jamming devices by any entity other than National Security Cluster Departments is not authorized and or permitted”. MMA calls on all South Africans to not to allow our hard-earned freedom to be taken away, South Africa, demands the right to know what happens in Parliament.
MMA is also very concerned by the comments made by a person purporting to be the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini. The twitter account @dlaminibatha, wrote on twitter yesterday, “@Abramjee you are pushing us too much and you are hardening us day by day, we are at the edge right now, if you want to us carry on!” this statement by the honourable member is not only shocking but it potentially indicates the disposition of our cabinet As such it demands an immediate apology from the Minister and a clear distancing by the President and cabinet of the sentiments expressed – if indeed they were made by the Honourable Minister Dlamini. . When a person in public office threatens journalists publicly in such a manner, we need to be seriously concerned about media freedom in South Africa. It is imperative that an explanation as to what she meant by her comments is provided. Minister, please understand that this freedom that you are easily forgetting today, was not freedom delivered to South Africans on a silver platter, it was hard earned, it was fought for and it should be protected not destroyed.
We call on all media to demand an investigation by parliament into the jamming devices, and for commitment that such action will not take place in future. We call on the Minister, if indeed it his her twitter account to immediately apologise unreservedly and for Cabinet to issue a statement distancing themselves from the unseemly and inappropriate comment from the twitter account.