Press ombud must issue 'space fines'
Johannesburg - Newspapers should be issued with a "space fine" when they contravene aspects of the Press Code, Independent Newspapers said on Tuesday.
"If a monetary fine is issued, newspapers will just include a certain amount for fines in their yearly budget. It will be like water on a duck's back," The Star's editor Moegsien Williams said in a presentation to the Press Freedom Commission's (PFC) public hearings in Johannesburg.
"The beautiful thing of a space fine is that the entire organisation, including the management of newspapers will be involved. It puts a greater pressure on the editorial staff to get things right."
Williams said a space fine would allocate space in the newspaper for an apology, depending on the nature of the infraction.
He said the fine would give the ombudsman "sharper teeth" while still allowing the media to regulate itself.
"The damage to democracy will be incalculable if tampered with. A media appeals tribunal will be the death knell of a free press in South Africa."
City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, who spoke on behalf of Media24, said the organisation favoured self-regulation over independent regulation, and opposed state involvement.
"We think that it [self-regulation] is a standard-setter, that it sets the values and ethics. It can determine a culture and can be innovative when the media landscape changes.
"We believe that any state involvement in regulation will have a chilling effect. I'd be lying to you if I said that in the past 18 months I haven't begun to feel those chilled winds already."
She said she was not always happy with the ombudsman's decisions, but knew that following the Press Code made her a better journalist and editor.
"We once called a culvert a low-lying bridge. The ombud finds fault no matter how trivial, and we have to adhere to it. Our reporters have now had some engineering training, so now we will call a culvert, a culvert," she joked.
She said the City Press had issued a page two apology for the error. It had also issued a front page apology for a story on ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa.
"Phosa said the ruling and the front page apology had made amends and [had] set things right," she said.