Major changes to press regulations

2012-10-03 10:55

The Press Council of SA (PCSA) has released its revised press code, procedures, and constitution, bringing significant changes to current press regulations.

The new system – effective from January 1 next year – moves away from the current press self-regulation model to a voluntary independent co-regulatory system involving exclusively representatives of the press and of the public.

The new press council will be chaired by a retired judge and have six public and six press representatives.

The outgoing PCSA will ask Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to recommend a judge who is no longer in active service to chair the council.

The judge will hold no other position in the council or its appeals mechanism.

Six of the 12 representatives on the new PCSA will be appointed by an appointments panel from nominations received from members of the public, and the other six will be from the press.

The council will elect a deputy chair from among its members, and the deputy chair will be rotated between the press and the public members.

To strengthen the PCSA office staff, appointments will include a director, an ombudsman, a public advocate and, if necessary, their deputies.

The director will lead the PCSA on a full-time, professional basis and concentrate on public engagement regarding issues of ethical journalism and media freedom.

The ombudsman will adjudicate matters that cannot be resolved at the earlier level of mediation.

The public advocate will receive complaints and be the champion of the complainants throughout the process.

The public advocate may also under certain circumstances initiate complaints if it is in the public interest.

Complaints will thus be made to the public advocate, instead of directly to the ombudsman as is currently the case.

Complaints must be made as soon as possible, but not later than 20 working days (currently 14) after the date of publication giving rise to the complaint.

Instead of the ombudsman trying to settle a complaint as is currently the case, the public advocate must try with the complainant to achieve a speedy settlement with the publication concerned.

If the complaint is not settled within 15 working days of the publication receiving notice of the complaint, the public advocate will refer the complaint to the ombudsman for adjudication, unless she or he feels the process needs to be lengthened because of the circumstances.

Regarding adjudication by the appeals committee, the chair of appeals will appoint one press member and up to three public members from the panel of adjudicators – appointed in terms of the new council constitution – to hear the appeal with him or her.

The chair of appeals will have discretion on the number of public members he or she invites to hear an appeal with him.

Sanctions include “space fines”, which will be applied by way of the amount of space imposed, and will correspond with the seriousness of the infraction.

Monetary fines will not be imposed as a penalty for the content of the press.

However, monetary fines according to a formula determined by the council and/or suspension for a period, or expulsion from the jurisdiction of the ombudsman may be imposed as sanctions for a respondent’s failure to appear for adjudication hearings and repeated non-compliance with the rulings of the adjudicatory system.

The reforms follow lengthy deliberations and public debate, and a threat by the ANC to investigate the desirability of creating a statutory media appeals tribunal.

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