Revised Press Code launched

2011-10-10 10:28

The newly revised Press Code launched today by the Press Council aims to get journalists to “commit to excellence”, press ombudsman Joe Thloloe said in Joburg.

Every five years, the press council reviews the Press Code to keep up with changing times, but deputy ombudsman Johan Retief admitted the ANC’s proposed media appeals tribunal (MAT) did put extra fire into the process.

“We would have reviewed the Press Code anyway, but the ANC’s MAT encouraged us to do it properly,” he told journalists.

The previous code was used as a basis and several changes were made.

“We did not want to reinvent the wheel, so we used the old code, which was a good code,” said Retief.

The main changes in the code include stronger language on the use of anonymous sources, saying these should only be used when there is no other way of handling the story.

According to Thloloe, many journalists use anonymous sources “as a fig leaf for irresponsible journalism”.

Another change to the code is that journalists are expressly forbidden from disclosing the HIV status of any person without their consent.

The role of money in journalism also came under scrutiny.

Journalists are now compelled to make it clear to readers when outside organisations paid towards the costs of news gathering.

They are also not allowed to accept bribes, gifts or any other benefit “where this is intended or likely to influence coverage”, the new Press Code reads.

For the first time, the Press Code also expressly forbids plagiarism by journalists.

Journalists are compelled to identify themselves as press representatives when dealing with sources or information, but are exempt from this if public interest dictates otherwise.

It says journalists should avoid “chequebook journalism”, particularly when criminals are involved.

If the material concerned can only be obtained through payment and has overwhelming public interest, this rule can be waived.

The Press Code, however, remains vague on whether publications are allowed to pay for exclusive stories or pictures.

Thloloe said: “There was a huge debate in the task team (that handled the review of the Press Code) about that. Some said it is common these days to pay for exclusive stories or pictures in the British press, why are you stopping us from going in that direction?”

» The new Press Code comes into effect on Saturday, October 15, and can be viewed at Presscouncil.org.za

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