Press Code overhaul on the cards

2011-08-18 13:44

The print media should continue to regulate itself while beefing up its oversight bodies and codes, the Press Council of SA has said.

The Press Council “has endorsed the system of media self-regulation and has proposed sweeping changes to the South African Press Code and the functioning of the office of the Press Ombudsman,” it said.

It was releasing a task team’s report on its functioning and that of the office of the Press Ombudsman’s after a year-long probe.

The report was commissioned amid complaints by the ANC about media coverage and proposals at its 2007 national conference to set up a media appeals tribunal to replace the existing self-regulation of the media.

“The wide-ranging survey of media regulatory practices undertaken convinced the Task Team and the Press Council that statutory regulation is not warranted in South Africa and that self-regulation remains the best option,” the Press Council said.

“Countries with strong traditions of freedom of expression and that have optimum cooperation among the media, practice self-regulation. This ensures respect for and compliance with the decisions of the Press Council.”

University of the Witwatersrand journalism Professor Franz Kruger, who was a member of the task team, said the Press Council did not want anything to do with a proposed media tribunal.

“We have reaffirmed our position that self-regulation is the best practice. The tribunal is a bad idea,” he said at a presentation of the report in Joburg.
“We don’t want any relationship with the media tribunal at all because we don’t want one,” he said.

The report recommended restructuring the Press Council to include a director to deal with the public on press standards and media freedom and a public advocate to help people with their complaints against the media.

It also suggested the appointment of an ombudsman to arbitrate matters not resolved through negotiation and a chair of appeals to deal with appeals.

The jurisdiction of the ombudsman’s office should be extended to the online publications of its members, the report advised.

It found that imposing fines on newspapers was not a good idea; instead the use of peer pressure and the publication of apologies and retractions should continue.

The report proposed amendments to the Press Code including sections on children’s rights, guidelines on privacy, dignity and reputation, and on independence and avoiding conflicts of interest.

Guidelines for the use of confidential and anonymous sources should be expanded and rules about discrimination and hate speech should be tightened.

Various measures to make the complaints process more accessible were recommended, such as advertising hearings and having a toll-free number to make it easier to complain.

Industry bodies making up the Council – the SA National Editors’ Forum, the Newspaper Association of SA, the Forum for Community Journalists, the Magazine Publishers’ Association of SA and the Association of Independent Publishers of SA – would now consider the report.

It would also be considered by the Press Freedom Commission chaired by former Chief Justice Pius Langa.

“We believe the final outcome will result in a strong and effective Press Council acting as a watchdog over press misdemeanour, while promoting excellence in the practice of journalism and upholding the freedom and independence of the press,” said Press Council chairman Raymond Louw.

“All are essential elements in promoting the concepts of democracy,” he said.

The task team examined 100 codes from around the world.

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