Media Monitoring Africa calls for Press Council overhaul

2011-02-23 10:54

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has called on the Press Council of South Africa to make significant changes so that it can better protect consumers against a media that is “dumbing down” readers by favouring titillation and personality politics over democratic issues and development stories.

“The commercial imperative (of the press) does affect our democracy because we know the key imperative there is profit making and therefore you are going to sing to the tune of your advertisers,” said MMA policy head Prinola Govenden.

“If we look at the example of our recent media coverage on the 2009 elections where Jacob Zuma became our new president, we saw that there was a focus on the sensationalism of personalities like Jacob Zuma, the God-like figure of Helen Zille, of Cope, IFP versus the ANC and through it all the electorate lost out.

“The media failed to give them enough information to cast an informed vote. Unfortunately the media is trying to sex content up and in between the developmental institutional imperative gets swallowed.”

Media ‘crimes’
Govenden said that identifying media “crimes” and meting out more effective punishments could make the media more accountable, and could improve the standards of journalism in South Africa.

“You need to get the media to be more accountable, there needs to be a greater presence of the press council, and we need to amend the complaints procedure. If you strengthen the current model there is no need for a MAT (Media Appeals Tribunal) and we are going to encourage better journalism.”

Watchdog group MMA called on the council to make serious changes to its appeals panel, constitution and complaints procedure. MMA said the council requires an overhaul to be effective and independent.

Speaking at the Press Council’s public hearings which kicked off at Wits University in Johannesburg, MMA legal expert Taryn Henton told Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe that it was crucial that the ANC couldn’t accuse the council of being biased in favour of the press.

‘Council needs teeth’
Henton said the council needed teeth and much stronger sanctions.

“The principle of proportionality needs to be put into place so that the crime must fit the punishment. If there was an article on the front page and it warrants an apology and it was a very damning article, then the response on the front page must be equal and opposite to repair the damage done to the reputation of the complainant.”

Henton’s recommendations came at the start of a countrywide series of public hearings held by the council as part of a review process.

The council is touring major cities and calling on members of the public and civic organisations to tell it how to improve.

“Allowing the media to right their wrongs will make the media more responsible because it will make the media see the consequences of what they have done.”

Another area of concern for Henton was the fact that children’s rights are not adequately represented in the Press Council’s code.

“There is nothing that deals with children. There is one clause that says that child pornography should not be printed. Given that children are given special protection in the constitution there should be a lot of clauses that deal with minimising harm.”

MMA recommended a number of legal clauses for inclusion in the code that would better protect the rights of children in the media.


Poor, marginalised have no voice

To view or download the MMA’s submission to the Press Council of South Africa, click here.

Need to complaint about a media issue or have you been wronged by a member of the press? View MMA’s guide to submitting media complaints:

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