South African parliament questioned over media policy

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Parliamentary media policy in South Africa will be subject to legal advice after complaints journalists have a lack of freedom in reporting government proceedings.

The move follows a call to ban journalist Deon de Lange from reporting on parliament, after he allegedly breached reporting protocol by speaking to a parliament official without permission. De Lange quoted the unnamed official who criticised a push to pass the Protection of State Information Bill, which would ban whistle-blowing on classified documents.

The editor of Independent Newspapers, de Lange's employer, has stated he was unaware of the parliamentary media rule. Other media groups, including the National Press Club and the Cape Town Press Club believe the move to ban De Lange is "ridiculous" according to Eye Witness News, also saying they were unaware of the rule.

Both clubs have condemned the move. No issues were raised regarding journalists quoting parliamentarians previously. The parliamentary media policy was reviewed in 2009 unbeknown to many press outlets.

Opposition parliamentary leader Atholl Trollip believes the move is being used to further gag the media from reporting on parliament, however parliamentary spokesman Luzuko Jacobs has stated that officials need to remain neutral in their stance on issues. "It is unethical, unacceptable and we can't have officials expressing a negative or a positive comment," he said.

Jacobs has refuted the claims South African media is being refused reporting rights; the government does not intend to make it impossible for journalists to speak with members of parliament through the media policy, he says.