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Tribunal 'violates constitution'

2010-08-02 21:16

Cape Town - The proposed media appeals tribunal is a clear violation of the Constitution, SA Press Council chair Raymond Louw said on Monday.

"As chairman of the SA Press Council which administers the Press Ombudsman system of press self-regulation, I am appalled that the SA Communist Party and the ANC are calling for the institution of a statutory media appeals tribunal 'to strengthen media freedom and accountability'," he said in a statement.

The manner in which the call was being made and indications of its objectives appeared to violate the promotion of freedom of expression and media freedom as set out in the Constitution.

The various reasons for setting up the tribunal offered by office bearers of the two parties and contained in the document put out by the ANC for discussion at its national general council in September, "Media transformation, ownership and diversity", were quite clear why they wanted to impose it on the press.

"They don't want the public to be told of their poor governance, corruption by 'tenderpreneurs' and lavish life-styles.

"They want the press to report the African National Congress's version of what is happening," Louw said.

This emerged clearly in the discussion document. It stated: "Our objectives therefore are to vigorously communicate the ANC's outlook and values (developmental state, collective rights, values of caring and sharing community, solidarity, ubuntu, non sexism, working together) versus the current mainstream media's ideological outlook (neo-liberalism, a weak and passive state, and overemphasis on individual rights, market fundamentalism, etc)."

The statements also displayed a startling ignorance about what went on in the Press Ombudsman's office.

Strong public representation

The SACP stated the ombudsman's office was made up of people from the media, who decided on complaints.

"Indeed, the ombudsman is a senior journalist. It is an essential requirement for a person adjudicating on the conduct of the media and journalism to be well versed in the methods and practice of journalism and a senior journalist fills that role," Louw said.

But there was strong public representation in that office.

When the Ombudsman conducted a hearing, he sat with two people, one a journalist, the other a public representative.

There were six public representatives and six journalists available for hearings by the ombudsman and the appeals panel.

The appeals panel was chaired by a non-journalist - a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal - and when he held a hearing he sat with one public and one press representative.

"Thus to suggest that the office and proceedings are conducting by 'people from the media' is false and is being propagated mischievously.

"Another complaint by the politicians is that the ombudsman's office is 'inadequate' without explaining what they mean by that, except to imply in some of their statements that they want punitive prison sentences and fines meted out to journalists and publishers," Louw said.