In the wake of the controversial cellphone signal block in Parliament on Thursday, the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) has announced that it is to set up a legal defence fund.
"Sanef is in the process of setting up a legal defence fund that will allow it to fund any current and future court cases which affect the right of journalists to work freely in our democracy," it said in a statement released on Sunday. For standing up for access to information, transparency and media freedom, Sanef is our hero of the week.
After a council meeting in Cape Town.on Saturday, Sanef announced that media houses would turn to the courts to “prevent any future attempts by state security agencies from unlawfully blocking communication signals aimed at interfering with journalists' constitutionally protected rights and freedoms”.
Two weeks before the now-infamous 2015 State of the Nation address, Sanef, the Press Gallery Association and major broadcasters met with parliamentary officials to discuss the policy on filming and broadcasting – the current policy states that the parliamentary broadcast feed should focus on the Speaker during incidents of disorder or unparliamentary behaviour instead of showing the activity on the floor and public galleries of the House.
The media organisations objected to this policy, saying that it was in conflict with the constitutional values of transparency, accountability and openness that should underpin the activities of the legislature. Furthermore, Parliament should supply a fair and balanced record of what happens in its Houses to the South African public, they insisted.
The media organisations requested an urgent review of the policy to bring it in line with the Constitution. This did not happen and Sanef now plans to approach the courts, to also ask that broadcast media be allowed to set up their own cameras and equipment instead of being forced to use the parliamentary feed.