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Legislative body bars journalists from tabling questions during its sessions

(MISA/IFEX) - According to MISA, on 18 March 1998, the provincial portfolio
committee on public works in the Mpumalanga legislature rejected an attempt
by journalists to table questions during the committee's sessions. It
followed a written
question from journalists requesting details of a threatened multi-million
rand damages suit against the provincial government by German aviation giant
Daimler Benz. Journalists covering the committee meeting had also tried to
ask questions about the province's irregular purchase of ten luxury BMWs.
Government officials had consistently refused to answer media questions
relating to both these issues.

Following objections from the deputy speaker of the legislature, Cynthia
Ripinga, and African National Congress (ANC) chief whip Fish Mahlalela, the
committee chairman, BJ Tolo, barred journalists from having any form of
direct participation in committee sessions. "The rules say the media is
allowed to be here but doesn't say anything about them asking questions.
They should therefore only be allowed to observe the proceedings", he said.

Journalist Justin Arenstein of the African Eye News Service, one of those
affected by the ban, described the action as a reversal of "three years of
established press freedom in the province." The Institute for Democracy in
South Africa (IDASA) noted that the
Constitution "expressly obligated" legislatures to facilitate public
participation in committees and other policy formation bodies. A spokesman
added: "Chairmen should understand that questions from the media could help
them realize public concerns and also direct them to issues they may have
overlooked in their quests to hold departments and politicians accountable."

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