Public not queuing at ‘Listening’ campaign

2012-01-24 00:00

ONLY six speakers presented their views before the Press Freedom Commission’s “Listening to SA Campaign” in Durban yesterday. There were more media present than public representatives in the large, empty room.

The buzz of a hard working air conditioner could be heard during the awkward pauses when the commissioners asked for more members of the public to come forward.

A lengthy submission by Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) representative, Joshua Mazibuko, said the press had on many occasions insulted the party and the leadership and the party had to use the press ombudsman to correct these attacks on the party’s image.

Mazibuko said: “We also had to resort to costly court cases where we have twice won our cases against newspapers for saying untrue things. The press ombudsman does help, but our problem is that when he tells a newspaper they must apologise, it can be months later and the apology will be on page four when the original story was on page one.”

Mazibuko recommended that the newspapers be censured by a body consisting of a group of interested professionals from all political groups and cultural organisations with decisions reached by consensus.

Hailey Fudu, a teacher and mother, complained that the high levels of violence and sensationalism in the newspapers were disturbing and not in line with promoting nation-building principles. Fudu said: “I find it alarming that the newspapers obssess about the bad and shocking news and yet they find it so easy to disregard the wonderful and positive things ordinary good people are doing.”

She appealed for more balance in the reporting of news. Rajen Naidoo appealed for newspapers to be allowed to do their job unhindered by more oppressive laws. He said his experience as a teenager under apartheid was ameliorated by a reporter who bothered to investigate their reasons for protesting.

Julia Zingu from the Children’s Rights Centre said there was not enough coverage of children’s issues and that youths were not given a voice in the media. She said that although there was a growing sensitivity around the publication of images of children there should be continuing education.

Councillor Jayathan Soobramany told the commission that a local newspaper in Tongaat had published a letter which had completely defamed him on eight counts. He said the letter which was sent to the newspaper was never checked for facts and it had done irreparable damage to him and his family.

Soobramany said in a shaking voice that the experience had been personally devastating. He said he was still awaiting an apology. He has since appealed to the press ombudsman for a solution. He said that newspapers should be aware that printing unfounded allegations and character assassinations could have consequences that were far reaching.

Some of the presentations touched on the issue of the Protection of State Information Bill which would restrict newspapers and journalists from access to certain information. In many people’s minds the two issues are inter-related.

Desmond D’Sa from KwaZulu Natal Right2Know Campaign said he was opposed to any efforts to gag the press. “Ordinary people deserve to know what is happening. After 1994 we finally started to feel that we could trust what was in the news. We want to be able to access information and be confident of its authenticity.” D’Sa said he did not want South African media to return to the previous era when the Government was in the position of being a gatekeeper.

Justice Pius Langa said that although they had requested for submissions from all provinces, there had been a poor response from other provinces and therefore a decision had been made to host the three hearings in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

Professor Kwame Karikari said it seems people were unaware of the Press Ombudsman and that they have recourse when they feel that they have been treated unfairly.

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