The deliberate jamming of eNCA’s satellite signals over the past year has the 24-hour news channel’s bosses suspecting deliberate sabotage, Glenda Nevill reports.
In the wake of the signal-jamming scandal in Parliament during the run-up to President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday, managing director of eNews Channel Africa (eNCA), Patrick Conroy, told The Media Online it wasn’t the first time the channel experienced its signal being jammed. The broadcaster had “been affected during high profile news events since April last year including the elections and the Oscar Pistorius trial”.
“Because non-political events have also been targeted we do not believe there is a political motive for this”, Conroy said, adding the same happened during SONA with four of eNCA’s six satellites jammed by “an unknown rogue operator”.
eNCA’s satellite news gathering co-ordinator, Neil Raath, has documented the incidents. In a report, he said, “If no information is provided by the rogue uplink, it’s very difficult to identify the source. Another problem is that the signal can be emanating from anywhere within the satellites’ footprint area and it’s impossible to trace an exact position.
“The rogue activity started on the 8 April 2014. At this stage the rogues were using two carriers simultaneously. We looked at the parameters of the carriers and found no video, audio or identification,” he wrote.
Conroy said what is sinister about this is that “the rogue operator is transmitting a data stream with no video, audio or transmitter information on it. So what is the point of transmitting then? Any why do it repeatedly over the last year? This seems to indicate they are deliberately jamming our signal. It is hard for us not to suspect sabotage”.
Raath confirmed the jamming generally took place during high profile events.“They tend to come up during high profile events. They are now only using one uplink but increasing their bandwidth enough to ‘cover’ up to four of our six frequencies at a time,” he wrote.
Conroy says the company is investigating the matter. “At this stage we cannot point fingers at anyone. There is no evidence to suggest this is political. The rogue signal jammers could even be outside of South Africa’s borders, but the tendency to target eNCA during high profile news events is worrying. Our satellite service providers are working with us to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
Raath said the activity continued during the run-up to South Africa’s general elections in May 2014, with the series of Wits Debates being targeted.
Conroy said the signal jamming in Parliament, and the censorship of footage during the melee in which public order police forcibly and violently removed the Economic Freedom Fighters’ MPs, was unsuccessful. “I believe one of the lessons learned from SONA 2015 is that attempts to jam or censor the activities in Parliament failed. Our reporter Paula Chowles filmed the EFF being forcibly removed on her smart phone and then uploaded it to YouTube. Ten minutes later we were broadcasting it on eNCA and e.tv to millions of viewers. It just goes to show that where there is a will there is a digital way,” he said.
eNCA was working with other media owners and the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) to address signal jamming in Parliament and its cameras censoring the footage from inside the National Assembly. Sanef, during its AGM held on Saturday, announced it was setting up a legal fund to fight “any current and future court cases which affect the right of journalists to work freely in our democracy”. The industry organisation also intends challenging in court Parliament’s control over the video feed, asking the court to “compel” the state to allow independent media in the National Assembly to film proceedings.
Earlier, Sanef said it was “outraged by the shocking, illegal clampdown on freedom of expression in Parliament during the State of the Nation address on Thursday night. We believe these unconstitutional actions were an attempt by both the legislature and the executive to prevent journalists from telling the nation the full version of Thursday nights’ events”.
“We will challenge the refusal by the office of the speaker to provide unedited footage of the proceedings of Parliament,” Sanef said in a statement. “We demand a meeting with the speaker and President Jacob Zuma, as head of the executive, for a full explanation, an investigation and an assurance that the rights and freedoms of the media and the public shall not be violated again.”
The Democratic Alliance, which walked out of Parliament in protest at riot police being called in to remove the EFF, said the “ jamming of signal was a grave infringement on the independence of the institution and the freedom of expression of Members and media within the house”. The party has tabled a request for an urgent debate into the jamming. It has also submitted questions to the minister of state security asking who authorised the (illegal) use of jamming devices.
The state, in the meantime, called it a “technical glitch”, much to the derision of a sceptical nation.
But media houses will not stop in their quest to ensure the freedom of the press to report in Parliament. Today, Primedia, Media24, the Right 2 Know Campaign and Sanef, among others, are going to the Cape Hight Court to prevent the State from jamming cellphone signals in future. The Speaker, under-fire Baleka Mbete, will be asked to ensure live video and audio feeds are captured and distributed to media.
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