Parly to seek advice on media policy

05 October 2011 - 02:34 By ANNA MAJAVU

Parliament will seek legal advice on its media relations policy in the wake of the uproar over a threat by parliament's secretary, Zingile Dingani, to revoke the accreditation of a reporter.

The resort to canvassing legal opinion was announced by parliamentary spokesman Luzuko Jacobs yesterday.

The Times reported yesterday that Dingani had complained to Independent Group editors that journalist Deon de Lange had breached a parliamentary protocol - the existence of which the editors say they were unaware - and asked them why he should not withdraw De Lange's parliamentary accreditation.

Last week, De Lange quoted an unnamed senior parliamentary official who criticised the ANC's decision to continue consideration of the Protection of State Information Bill - intended to criminalise whistle-blowing involving classified documents - in a closed ruling party committee.

ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga threatened to crack down on De Lange's source and ordered an investigation.

Jacobs claimed yesterday that revoking De Lange's accreditation did not constitute "a ban".

"We are going to refer this policy to our legal services for vetting," he said.

Jacobs said it was not true that the "Policy on Media Relations Management" of 2009 stipulated that journalists needed permission to speak to the support staff of political parties in parliament. The policy, he said, applied only to journalists seeking information on the business of parliament from parliamentary officers, who were civil servants.

In a letter sent yesterday to the Press Gallery Association's executive, Jacobs wrote: "Leaked documents and information from nameless sources seem to be taking over, and official comment is relegated into insignificance, if at all . The media are co-opted into personal and group agendas. The truth is mixed up with malicious falsities to malign people and cast aspersions."

The association's co-chairmen, Joylene van Wyk and Donwald Pressly, said it was "absurd" to come up with a rule preventing journalists from interviewing party staff and employees of parliament.

"The timing of a plan to ban a journalist from doing his job is very ominous," said the Cape Town Press Club's vice-chairman, Martin Slabbert.

Following concerns raised by media representatives, Jacobs said: "It could well be ambiguous. The policy relates to officers of parliament, people like me who are employed in the administration.

"In the letter [to the Press Gallery Association], we indicated that only the secretary to parliament and the person delegated by him could speak on these issues."

He said the intention was "definitely not" to make journalists apply for permission to speak to MPs. - Additional reporting by Sapa