The South African National Editors’ Forum has backed a demand by the Parliamentary Press Gallery Association (PGA) on Wednesday that the legislature withdraw a statement about negotiations on media arrangements for the State of the Nation Address (Sona).
The PGA accused the secretary of parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, of misrepresenting the facts in the statement issued earlier in the day and said it constituted a breach of trust.
“The statement was not only misleading, but it was issued prematurely while discussions were ongoing between the PGA, Parliament and SANEF (South African National Editors’ Forum,” PGA secretary Paul Vecchiatto said.
Vecchiatto said contrary to assurances from Mgidlana in the statement, the PGA remained concerned that journalists covering President Jacob Zuma’s tenth Sona on Thursday would have their movements and ability to work restricted.
Mgidlana said it was agreed at a meeting between his office and the PGA on Tuesday that, contrary to several media reports, nothing had changed in Parliament’s regulations regarding media operations around the event.
“Indeed nothing has changed in the regulations and protocols governing the operations of the media accredited to cover the State of the Nation Address,” he said.
He added that a liaison team of PGA members had been established to interact with parliamentary officials as “a first point of call to help nip any potential, real or imaginary, challenge in the bud”.
Vecchiatto countered: “It is not correct to claim that a liaison team of the PGA had been established already to assist in the event of a problem arising on the day.”
“In Tuesday’s meeting, there was no discussion about a statement being issued, and we were still in discussions about the next move forward,” he added.
“By issuing a statement prematurely, Parliament has broken our trust.”
Sanef noted that it had written to speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Thandi Modise to spell out concerns regarding restrictions on the media’s movements on Thursday.
Modise referred the matter to Mgidlana, but Sanef said the statement he issued was a setback for negotiations with him.
“These efforts were hampered this morning after Parliament issued a statement that was not only premature but also was not a true reflection of what had transpired at a meeting between the PGA, a Sanef representative and Mr Mgidlana on Tuesday evening.
“Sanef supports the PGA’s request – made at what was to be a follow-up meeting – for the statement to be withdrawn. The statement was misleading and claimed that agreement on a range of issues had been reached. The statement amounted to a breach of trust in ongoing attempts to find a solution to our serious concerns about security plans at parliament.
Sanef also said it remained “extremely concerned that security arrangements would hamper journalists’ ability to report on the event”.
Additional security measures have been in place during Zuma’s annual address to parliament in recent years since the Economic Freedom Fighters began routinely disrupting the event.
– African News Agency