Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli struggled on Tuesday to reassure journalists that their coverage of this week's State of the Nation Address (Sona) would be undisturbed.
Tsenoli told journalists at a parliamentary media briefing that they should not have to worry about their work being hindered on Thursday evening.
Journalists read out a signed memorandum from the Secretary to Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, introducing the idea of "media squares", which would see journalists being corralled between two demarcated areas. They would only be allowed to move between them under escort.
Accredited journalists had been free to move around in all areas of the precinct during past Sona.
Tsenoli said he was not aware of the concept of the "media squares". "Parliament is ultimately responsible for the security at Sona. In my view, there should be no clampdown on media freedom on the day."
Tsenoli said it would be an unrealistic strategy to block communication in an age of cellphones and social media, and at an event attended by many political parties. "Really, would we be able to do that? [It would be] like putting your fingers to try and plug holes? That is how ridiculous it sounds. It would be clumsy."
He said journalists in the National Assembly will be able to leave the bay were there to be news breaking elsewhere on the precinct.
The deputy speaker was coy on whether he had been filled in on Parliament's plans, and said the process of running Sona was done primarily through Parliament, but with many other stakeholders, including the police and the City of Cape Town. He was also not aware of the signed memorandum from Mgidlana, dated January 25, to Parliament staff and others, informing it of the "media square" outside the National Assembly.
Journalists asked why Parliament had ramped up the size of the city's red zone this year, with more road closures, the introduction of the "media squares", and the vetting of guests by the State Security Agency.
Tsenoli said the security processes were determined by Parliament, in conjunction with the City and the police. "Those determinations are done by people who manage the crowds outside Parliament, and the potential that they may have on what is happening inside Parliament. The risks are determined by what may have happened in the past."
He reassured journalists that their freedom would not be interfered with, and promised to get it in writing that Parliament would not interfere with the work of the media through the "squares". – News24Suggest a correction