Press ombudsman slow, unfair - Cosatu

2012-01-20 12:05
Cape Town - The press ombudsman takes too long to make rulings and insists on an unfair requirement that complainants sign away their right to take further action through the courts, the Congress of the SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Friday.

In a submission to a commission holding public hearings on the regulation of print media, Cosatu said self regulation in the print media "sounds good in theory" but had not worked in practice.

Unconstitutional requirement

"The ombudsman is under-funded and under-staffed," it said.

"He takes too long to make rulings and insists on an unfair, and probably unconstitutional requirement, that anyone who lodges a complaint must sign away their right to take further action through the courts."

Cosatu said its comments on the media appeals tribunal (MAT) and "the numerous associated problems identified with the existing regulatory mechanisms" were constrained because its constitutional structures had not yet adopted a comprehensive response to the proposal to establish a MAT.

"The Cosatu central executive committee decided that it could not support a MAT until it was made clearer as to how it would be constituted and how the independence of similar bodies had been safeguarded in other countries."

Cosatu said there was a strong case motivating the introduction of more stringent regulatory mechanisms for the media with more independence and "more teeth".

Advertising revenue

The general dependence on commercial advertising revenue raised serious questions about the overall orientation and commercial bias of the print and online media.

The concept of "independence" would commonly be construed to mean free from bias and influence of the state, political parties, and economic interests.

"Against this background, the media cannot be described as strictly independent in every sense," Cosatu said.

The biggest concern with both the protection of state information bill and the MAT was that they could be misused to suppress the publication of matters of legitimate public concern and to protect those guilty of unethical or criminal acts.

It was therefore essential to strike the right balance between the right to publish potentially damaging but true allegations, and the right for individuals and organisations to be protected from false allegations.

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