09 Feb 2017-
Dear Secretary to Parliament
PEN South Africa is deeply concerned about the extreme security arrangements President Jacob Zuma and his government have set in motion for the presidential State of the Nation Address to Parliament and the country this evening and the serious effects this will have on the ability of the media to report on the proceedings and incidents that arise.
Unprecedented large contingents of police and military personnel are being deployed amid complaints by opposition political parties and lawyers that legal processes are not being adhered to and that the movements of the media are to be confined to a so-called “media square” outside Parliament and to a media bay in Parliament. A journalist can move from those areas only with an escort so far unidentified though journalists claim they have information that it will be a member of the security services.
Journalists believe these restrictions are unprecedented and far removed from the freedom of movement they have had in the past in covering parliamentary proceedings. They believe this will hamper them in observing events and gathering news and information and have voiced strong protests to Parliamentary officials.
Even more alarming was the publication by an official of an erroneous statement about an agreement being reached at a meeting between Parliamentary officials and the Press Gallery Association composed of journalists who cover Parliamentary proceedings and a representative of the SA National Editors’ Forum all of whom said there was no agreement and demanded the withdrawal of the statement.
Journalists have been shocked at the misinformation that has characterised several of the statements of Parliamentary officials during the discussions. They say this threatens the trust that has existed between them and the officials in the past and which is essential to enable them to carry out their work.
PEN South Africa is deeply shocked at these reports which threaten the public’s right to know and access to accurate information and urgently calls on those in charge of the security arrangements at Parliament to ensure that journalists are not impeded in carrying out their important duty.
President, PEN South Africa