What sort of media regulator?

2012-01-31 00:00

AN independent media regulator or a self-regulating entity with teeth.

This was the overall feeling yesterday about what South Africa’s print media need on the first day of the Press Freedom Commission’s public hearings in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

The panel, led by former chief justice Pius Langa, heard from media representatives as well as members of the public how they believe the print media should be regulated.

The nine-member panel will report its findings in March.

Langa said the media make most of their mistakes when they rush into print with a scoop.

Professor Anthea Garman of Rhodes University agreed with this in her submission, saying scoops are a form of competition between publications and journalists and do not benefit the public.

“Readers remember errors, not scoops,” she said, quoting a poster in the Rhodes journalism department.

There was much discussion about the way journalists should be penalised for inaccurate reporting.

Professor Jane Duncan, Highway Africa’s media and information studies chairperson, said journalists should not be fined, because most “struggling” media houses can’t afford fines.

She added that if a journalist has to be fined it must be because he or she acted maliciously.

DA national spokesperson Mmusi Maimane put forward 10 proposals for more effective self-regulation.

One of these was that the press ombudsman’s findings should be given legal status rather than being merely a strong recommendation.

He also said corrections should appear prominently on the front page of publications and felt journalists should be fined for offences that affect the public adversely.

Others, like Dr Mashilo Boloko, who works for government, but appeared in his personal capacity, believed the media’s time of self-regulation is over.

“I’m looking for a strong regulatory system that is independent and has teeth. It must be able to fine people if they deliberately break the rules.”

Dr Ebrahim Hassim (79), a retired general practitioner from Pretoria, agreed.

His letters to newspapers have sometimes been changed before publication and he believes the media is not able to regulate itself. He said an independent body is the only solution.

Mzimkulu Malunga, managing director of BDFM Publishers, which owns Business Day and Financial Mail, believed it would benefit both media and government if the government learnt media skills.

“There will always be tension between the media and government, but it would help relieve that tension.”

 

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