Press Council process is enough

2011-02-12 13:06

When the Press Ombudsman and the Appeals Panel ruled recently against City Press for a number of articles that related to the quality of work undertaken in Limpopo by a company allegedly linked to Julius Malema, it sent an important message to this newspaper.

The premier complained of 18 alleged irregularities, of which 15 were dismissed.

That is not important. What is important is that the paper was found to have failed to inform its readers correctly in three separate areas.

In particular, the ruling around the ­picture that had been used to allegedly show that the bridge was damaged was found to be misleading.

The bridge itself was not damaged, but the road near the bridge was. Both the ombudsman and the panel found this to have been misleading and inaccurate.

The paper has promised to put more stringent measures in place to ensure this does not happen again.

This is important because embodied in the ruling is a sense that either the reporter or the photographer, or both, had taken the picture and decided to use it to create an impression that would strengthen a pre-ordained ­angle on the story.

That would be wrong. That would not be journalism but propagandising.

What makes it worse is that it eclipses the main point of the story, which was that there is poor quality of work being done in the province.

Now the story will only be remembered for what it apparently tried to say but did not have the facts or pictures to back up.

The control mechanisms announced by the editor-in-chief following the ruling are extensive and will go far in stemming the repetition of those kinds of mistakes.

With the Limpopo premier having ­triumphed, the ANC Youth League ­(ANCYL) has now imposed a ban on the reporter, Piet Rampedi, from covering any activities, not only of the league but the ANC in its entirety.

This approach is as unfortunate as the Democratic Alliance (DA) sidelining a Sowetan reporter ­because she “is a former South African Municipal Workers’ Union spin doctor”.

In the case of the ANCYL, they had not been party to the complaint, but now want to use the outcome to ban a reporter from doing his work.

The rules of the game are that you ­cannot pick and choose what you prefer. You cannot go into the Press Council process and then want to impose  further penalties externally.

The same applies to the DA. Anna ­Majavu, Sowetan’s political correspondent in Cape Town, wrote an article that the DA found objectionable and it went to the ombudsman to complain.

The ombudsman dismissed two of the complaints and upheld two, and ordered the Sowetan to publish an apology.

But since then the DA have removed Majavu from their mailing list, and ­Gareth van Onselen, the party’s director of communications, says this was because “Majavu consistently fails to report the news fairly and objectively where the DA is concerned.

The DA has a long and ­detailed record of her bias”.

The DA seems to believe that once someone works as a spokesperson for an organisation this disqualifies them from ­being an objective journalist. Would this apply to Donwald Pressly, who once worked for the DA and now writes for Business Report?

The DA, which is supposedly the bastion of liberal tradition, tolerance and rule of law, does not haul Majavu before the ombudsman each time they feel she has transgressed the ethics of journalism. They instead effectively ban her.

Nothing is gained from compiling a list of alleged bias that is not used to make the reporter aware and thus correct her ways.

The way to go for the DA is to bring this to the attention of Sowetan’s editor or go to the ombudsman. Unless, like the ANCYL, they feel that self-regulation does not work.

Both the ANCYL and the DA should desist from engaging in activities that threaten media freedom.

» Tsedu heads the Media24 Journalism Academy and is the City Press Public Editor

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