Parliament to look into tribunal
Stuart Graham and Natasha Marrian
Durban - Parliament will be tasked with looking into the "desirability" of setting up a "statutory independent media appeals tribunal", the ANC's national general council said on Thursday.
"It should be Parliament that investigates its desirability and feasibility. That investigation could go either way," said ANC national executive committee member Pallo Jordan at a media briefing in Durban.
"The existing self-regulatory system with the press ombudsman and press council is ineffective and needs to be strengthened."
Some 2 200 delegates agreed that Parliament would decide on what form the tribunal would take - it could take the form of self-regulation, co-regulation or independent regulation.
No pre-publication censorship
If Parliament agrees that a media appeals tribunal is needed, the ANC recommends that it should be "independent of commercial and party political interference" and it should not be in the form of pre-publication censorship.
The ANC's suggestion of a media appeals tribunal sent shock waves through the media fraternity, who raised concern over its effect on press freedom.
Jordan said it was because of the ANC that South Africa could enjoy media freedom.
"South Africa’s media comes from very unfortunate past thanks to the government that preceded us and consequently are ultra-sensitive," he said.
"They have a tendency to think any criticism of the media as some form of censorship and oppression.
"I defy you to find a political party in our Parliament today that has a record that can step up to ours in defence and pursuance of freedom of expression and the freedom of the media."
Jordan said the issue of tribunal did not have as much prominence in the commission's discussions as many thought it might.
The paragraph on the tribunal, which was welcomed by most journalists at the press conference as being "as good as we are going to get it" and "watered down", took up just one paragraph of an eight page proposal document.
The proposals are that tribunal should not have the right to pre-publication censorship and that it be independent of commercial and party political interests.
Jordan said there had been no suggestions from any of delegates as to what form sanctions against the media might take.
"Something will be placed before Parliament at some point. It will be put on Parliament’s timetable."
Jordan called for a charter to oversee the transformation of the print media, which was dominated by four groups "Virtually every word printed in this country emanates from four huge print media conglomerates.
"We don’t think that is a reasonable state of affairs. We have been concerned about this for a number of years."
One journalist asked Jordan: "What do you expect us to do? Report on Zuma going to church and ANC members must sing hallelujah."
Jordan replied that there was nothing unusual about wanting to see 65% of views of electorate reflected.
"There is nothing sinister about that," he said. Jordan argued that in Britain there were four main line newspapers, such as The Telegraph who backed the Conservative Party and The Daily Mirror which supported the Labour Party, who took political standpoints.
"That is the pattern in most democracies. If you go to Italy there is even greater variety. You find people reading a communist newspaper, a clerical one. Diversity in society is reflected in the print media."
Protection of Information Bill
Jordan said not mention was made of the Protection of Information Bill, which has been widely decried as an attempt to return to apartheid-era repression. The bill in its current form will give government officials wide discretion to classify information and will impose harsh penalties on the press for publishing such information.
Lumko Mtimde, another member of the sub-committee, said the media had to be taken to task for its regular "inaccurate reporting".
"There is no discouragement against bad reporting," he said. "You see so many cases, so many apologies every time you open a newspaper."
Mtimde said the media diversity in broadcasting was "to some degree" on the right path.
It had more than 100 community stations, a private television stations and space in terms of broadcasting was given to different languages and diverse content.
"The space is open to a wide range of South Africans," he said.
The situation was different in the print media, he said, where there were challenges in terms of ownership and control in terms of publishing and printing.
"It was resolved that there should be an inquiry into the transformation of print media in SA," he said.
"We need to look into challenges and see what needs to be done."