The virtual meeting of the National Assembly‘s Programming Committee had to adjourn for a short time after it was hacked by pornographic images. The meeting was held on the Zoom virtual meeting platform.
The incident follows a similar one in Pretoria a few weeks ago hosted by Minister of Women, Children and People with disability.
This incident already had Presiding Officers having doubts about the specific platform. But other Members of Parliament said it performed better when joining virtual meetings from rural areas. The meeting resumed a few minutes later on another virtual platform.
Virtual meetings are a new terrain for Members of Parliament. Many still battle to position themselves properly and other technical aspects are a challenge.
The security of these virtual platforms came to the fore when graphic visuals were uploaded. MPs then had to switch platforms.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, has strongly expressed her reservation about using the Zoom platform to hold virtual meetings.
“Zoom is risky. I am very skeptical unless Zoom can assure that we will not go through this. This clearly has issues of security. They cannot guarantee issues. So, I am very skeptical about going back to Zoom. I must say I do not want to be exposed to what I was exposed to today and the country does not deserve it.”
The House Chairperson, Cedrick Frolick, also opposed to using Zoom. He says while other MPs prefer to use it, it is not a viable option for Parliament.
“Given the difficulty with Zoom and insistent in all meetings that Zoom has serious security issues, proven this morning. MPs asked to move away from streams. I hope that argument is no longer relevant. We must also ensure that if meetings are online, we don’t have reason to have other observers. They can follow on YouTube.”
But MPs such as the African National Congress’ (ANC) Deputy Chief Whip, Doris Dlakude, says Zoom has provided better quality for someone like her, who joins from a rural area.
“With this one, Microsoft is not clear. I can hear myself but when someone else speaks it is difficult to hear. But I wanted to say, we didn’t agree to Zoom for the sake of it, but because it gave better quality service.”
Besides the security of the online platforms, some MPs also expressed concern over the quality of the meetings. Democratic Alliance (DA) Chief Whip Natasha Mazzone says the limit of two hours per meeting is not enough.
“Because the way committee meetings are happening at the moment is not conducive to accountability. We are not doing our jobs as MPS in these meetings because we can’t run them effectively.”