Legal representatives at the High Court in Pretoria during an application by amaBhungane against Rica surveillance regulations. Photo: Brenda Masilela / ANA

Pretoria - A senior counsel representing the State Security Agency on Thursday told the high court in Pretoria that journalists were not entitled to dictate how the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA) should be implemented in order to accommodate them.

Advocate Vuyani Ngalwana made his submissions after amaBhungane brought an application to declare some of sections on RICA unconstitutional and invalid.

Ngalwana was representing the Minister of State Security, Office of the Interception Centre (OIC) and the National Communication Centre (NCC).

The application was launched when amaBhungane learned that one of their investigating journalists, Sam Sole had been the target of state surveillance under RICA, while investigating the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority to drop corruption charges against former President Jacob Zuma.

amaBhungane argued that RICA lacks necessary safeguards to protect the public's right to privacy, saying the current regulations lack protection for journalists and their sources.

They also put it before the court that if a subject has been placed under surveillance, they should be notified once the surveillance has been concluded, thereby safeguarding the principle of open justice.

Ngalwana disputed this argument and said journalists could not be given preferential treatment, risk national security or when it comes to terrorism threats.

He argued that he did not see the feasibility of post surveillance notification, saying it served no purpose and would only compromise the intelligence agencies and national security.

"Courts are not there to dance to the tune of the media for brownie points. In any event it is impermissible for the court to enter into the fray of powers of a legislative nature," he said.

He said journalists should raise their concerns during public consultation period.

"They cannot opt out of that process and come to court and seek to force their own version of what the law should say, when they are not accountable for the high crime rate, politicians are."

In his closing statement,  Ngalwana said amaBhungane should be ordered to pay costs because they knew as early as June 2017 that there is was a bill in process to amend RICA.

Advocate Steve Budlender, for amaBhungane, asked the court to dismiss this completely.

"The supplementary affidavit submitted by counsel this morning for the Minister of Justice does not even provide a Bill, only a proposed timeline, he said.

Budlender said the notion and position advanced by Ngalwana is reminiscent of apartheid era and should not be considered.

Judgment has been reserved in the matter.

African News Agency (ANA)