Press code addresses ANC's concerns

2011-10-10 16:46
Johannesburg - The press code governing print media has been tightened to root out irresponsible journalism, Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe said on Monday.

Releasing the new code in Johannesburg, Thloloe said bad reporting was not rife, but that the number of complaints had increased from 213 last year to an expected 300 for this year.

"It's rather isolated. It's not as if the South African press has gone all out to be irresponsible," he said.

"We believe if we implement the new code, we will help improve journalism in the country."

Thloloe said the African National Congress had not made any submissions regarding any changes or additions to the code.

Media appeals tribunal

The code was "influenced" by the ANC's proposal of instituting a media appeals tribunal to regulate the press, said deputy Ombudsman Johan Retief, but added that the five-year review was normal.

One of the new clauses in the code relates to dignity and reputation and reads: "The press shall exercise exceptional care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation, bearing in mind that any right to privacy may be overridden only by a legitimate public interest."

Thloloe said this in particular spoke to the ANC's concerns.

The Press Council had received a substantial number of public complaints regarding the reporting of children. Previously, the code stipulated only that child pornography could not be published.

Under the new regulations, no child under 18 could be interviewed, photographed or filmed without the consent of a parent or guardian - if there was any chance coverage might cause harm of any kind.

It also states that the media may not identity children who had been victims of, were charged with, or convicted of abuse or exploitation.

Standards on confidential and anonymous sources had also given the council a "huge headache", said Thloloe.

"Many a journalist has tried to use this as a fig leaf to try and cover up irresponsible journalism."

The two new clauses in the section dictate that journalists should use anonymous sources only if there is no other way to handle a story.

Public interest

The press may also not publish information that constitutes a breach of confidence, unless there is a legitimate public interest.

"Our work must at all times by guided by the public interest," Thloloe said.

Plagiarism has for the first time been banned in the code.

"Plagiarism is clearly forbidden in the new code."

A further addition was reporting on the HIV/Aids status of people without their consent.

The code comes into operation on October 15. Any complaints registered before this period would still be subjected to the old code.

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