The DA has backtracked on a decision to grant Times Media Group access to Helen Zille’s disciplinary hearing, claiming doing so could compromise sensitive information.
The official opposition insisted that disciplinary procedures were generally not open to the media, but the move was criticised as contrary to the party’s purported commitment to transparency.
The decision is a departure from the DA’s stance on the matter on Monday, after it agreed to grant TMG limited access following an application to sit in on Zille’s hearing starting on Friday.
The party’s legal representatives, Minde Schapiro & Smith, wrote to TMG indicating that the “disciplinary procedures of the DA are always held in private without media in attendance.
The DA has a right to hold its disciplinary proceedings in private”.
The law firm went further to state that the DA was “unaware of any authority supporting the proposition that the media has a right to attend the disciplinary hearing of a political party”.
The letter said testimony was likely to involve sensitive party strategy information, which could be “prejudicial” if made public.
The DA has now offered to hold daily media briefings at the end of each day’s events.
Zille said yesterday she had no objections to the media attending the hearing, but that it was the party’s decision to make.
Lorraine Tlomatsane, head of the law clinic at the Freedom of Expression Institute, said the DA’s decision raised questions about its commitment to transparency. “They are preaching the gospel of transparency but they are not being transparent,” she said.
Biko Mutsaurwa of Right2Know said there was precedent where similar cases had been challenged successfully in court on the basis of public interest.
Zille yesterday submitted reasons why the DA should not suspend her. The reasons were not made public. She said she would meet the party’s federal legal commission on Friday – a meeting at which she was entitled to be accompanied by a lawyer.
DA federal chairman James Selfe said Zille’s representations would be considered by the commission. He said another meeting would be set to discuss whether to suspend Zille from her party duties.