DA: Statement by Athol Trollip, Democratic Alliance Parliamentary leader, on Parliament barring a journalist (04/10/2011)

4th October 2011

Parliament has reportedly threatened to revoke the media accreditation of an Independent Group journalist who recently wrote an article citing criticism of the ANC’s handling of the Protection of Information Bill. The Secretary to Parliament has apparently cited an unknown draft parliamentary media protocol in an attempt to bar journalist from the parliamentary press gallery.

This behavior is untenable in a constitutional democracy in which the freedom of the press is supposed to be sacrosanct.

I have today written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, to request an urgent meeting to address this matter.

I plan to raise a number of concerns directly with the Speaker, including:

• Why the ANC whippery, under the leadership of ANC Chief Whip Matole Motshekga, has been allowed to abuse Parliament to silence criticism of its handling of the Protection of Information Bill
• When the draft media protocol cited by the Secretary to Parliament was approved, and by whom
• Why the media protocol was not compiled in consultation with all parties represented in the National Assembly, and with input from the relevant stakeholders in the media industry
• Why the protocol includes provisions which appear to be unconstitutional, such as limiting the interaction between journalists and members of parliament
• Why the draft protocol dictates that journalists must channel all enquires for interviews with MPs, party support staff or parliamentary employees through the parliamentary media relations office.

There are two issues at stake here. The first is why Parliament has allowed itself to be used to fight a party-political battle against media freedom. The second is why a draconian draft media protocol devised in a vacumn is being used to gag the press gallery. It is completely inappropriate for Parliament to dictate how journalists and MPs should engage. In a democracy such as ours, in which a free media is supposed to be regarded as paramount, MPs and journalists must be allowed to interact freely.

The DA will use all mechanisms at its disposal to ensure that Parliament provides a full explanation for this state of affairs. A people’s Parliament must be a forum for robust engagement, not a weapon to limit media freedom.