Print media body proposes ‘radical departure’ from self-regulation

2012-04-25 14:11

The Press Freedom Commission has recommended a “radical departure” from the principle of self-regulation for South Africa’s print media.

The Commission, set up by the SA National Editor’s Forum and Print Media SA to investigate the regulatory framework of print media, today made its recommendations public.

The commission’s report recommends a system of “independent co-regulation”.

This means the Press Council, which is responsible for infractions of the Press Code, will now consist of seven members of the general public with five members representing the print industry.

Previously, complainants to the Press Council also agreed to waive any subsequent lawsuits, but the PFC recommended this should be scrapped.

The report widens the criteria for the acceptance of third-party complainants and calls for the creation of predetermined “space fines” in newspapers for infractions of the Press Code.

Monetary fines will also be imposed for failure to appear before the commission.

At the hand-over of the report in Johannesburg today, Raymond Louw, chairperson of the current council, said there was an “extreme danger of censorship because its an outside body – and not the press – making the decisions”.

Louw also said he found it “very difficult to accept” public submissions to the PFC which said the Press Council was toothless or did not act because it was staffed with members of the print media.

He said that the current ombudsman had found in favour of complainants in over 66% of complaints.

Commissioner Kobus van Rooyen replied that the PFC did not agree with the accusation that the Press Council is toothless, but said that the recommendations were meant “to kill the accusation by going further than any other system”.

Van Rooyen also said that the regulator was not going to decide on content, just on infractions of the Press Code.

Mondli Makhanya, chairperson of Sanef, said the media industry accepted the report, but that it was “quite a radical departure from the previous regulatory system”.

“We wield a lot of power and influence and we are a force for good, but on occasion, we also have our shortcomings.”

Hoosain Karjieker, President of Print Media SA, said the industry would begin implementing the changes as soon as possible, and that money had been set aside for this purpose.

Gwede Mantashe, ANC secretary-general, said he was “very comfortable” with what was presented, but would take the report to the ANC’s NEC to be discussed.

“[The principles] give us what we think is legitimate regulation of the print media,” said Mantashe.

The PFC’s report was commissioned against the backdrop of the ANC’s 2007 decision to investigate the possibility of a Media Appeals Tribunal.

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