DA to complain over media group
Cape Town - The Democratic Alliance will lay an official complaint against Independent Newspapers with the press ombudsman over an ANC centenary celebration feature, it said on Wednesday.
"[On Tuesday] my office received a letter from Independent Newspapers inviting the DA to advertise in a special feature on the ANC’s centenary celebrations," party leader Helen Zille said on Wednesday.
The feature was to run in The Star, Pretoria News, Cape Argus, Daily News, Diamond Fields Advertiser, and Isolezwe on January 13.
"The letter, written on an Independent Newspapers letterhead alongside an ANC logo, is a glowing endorsement of the ANC."
It was ironic that Independent Newspapers would choose to run an advertising feature glorifying the ANC when the same party was attempting to shut down the free press, Zille said.
However, Independent News and Media SA editorial director Moegsien Williams said it was "wrong, misleading and mischievous for anyone to suggest that an advertising feature has, can or will influence our editorial content".
Advertising features were handled by the commercial section of Independent Newspapers.
"As a rule, there is a 'Chinese' wall between the commercial and editorial units of our company primarily to protect our editorial integrity."
Decisions regarding news content were taken by members of the editorial staff and ultimately the editors, whose letters of appointment had a clause which spelled out their independence and sole authority in determining editorial content and policy.
"We have and will always defend our editorial integrity against any undue commercial, political or any other interference or influence.
"We value our readers' interests above all else and are sensitive to their diverse views. This is the main reason why we will not promote political parties on our editorial pages," Williams said.
Independent Newspapers' news coverage was based on the principles of its own and the Press Council's code of ethics, which emphasised accuracy, fairness, and objectivity.
"The planned ANC centenary supplement is similar to the many supplements our commercial departments publish regularly to commemorate or mark events or anniversaries of corporates and other organisations.
"As a rule, they are clearly marked as 'advertorial'," Williams said.
Zille said this "one-sided endorsement by a newspaper of a political party to solicit prospective advertisers", as well as the planned supplement itself, appeared to be in violation of section 3.1 of the Press Code.
This section stated that the "press shall not allow commercial, political, personal, or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting".
"Conflicts of interest must be avoided, as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the press’s independence or professionalism," it stated.
Zille said she would lay an official complaint with the press ombudsman in terms of the Press Code, and would impress upon him the need to make a ruling before the special feature on the ANC centenary was due to appear in January.
"It is crucial that a signal is sent out to all media that the one-sided promotion of a political party is not okay.
"It violates the very principles of independence that all media should adhere to. If this is the way that the Independent Group is framing the ANC’s centenary, I shudder to think what the SABC is planning," she said.