ANC 'uncomfortable' with new media plan

By Drum Digital
26 April 2012

A new proposed mechanism to regulate print media more effectively received a positive response from the African National Congress on Wednesday.

"By and large, we are very comfortable," said ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who was present at the report's release in Johannesburg.

The proposed regulations had moved a long way in terms of what the ANC's expectations were for protecting people's rights, he said.

"It has taken everybody out of their comfort zone."

In the report, the Press Freedom Commission (PFC) recommends greater public participation in a system of independent co-regulation between the public and press, without state or government involvement.

"From the extensive studies conducted, the PFC concludes that an independent co-regulatory mechanism -- not including state participation -- will best serve press freedom in the country."

The PFC proposed a system of people drawn mostly from various sections of the public outside the press industry to ensure independence.

This was in response to the public dissatisfaction with the current system and complaints of shoddy journalism, a perception that complaints against the media were not being properly resolved and the public's rejection of government involvement.

The report follows a series of hearings earlier this year led by former chief justice Pius Langa.

It contains a number of recommendations, including changes to the Press Code to clarify court reporting rules and how to report on children.

Major recommendations include that the number of public members be increased in the governing structure of the Press Council of SA and the Appeals Committee.

It is proposed that employees of the press not be eligible to sit in the adjudication committees, which would give the public more say.

The report recommends the physical separation of the Press Council of SA (PCSA) from premises shared with publishers and editors.

It recommends the introduction of a hierarchy of fines depending on the infraction and the publication's response to a complaint. Repeated non-compliance with the rulings of the adjudicatory system could lead to suspension or even expulsion from the PCSA.

"Space fines" would be a form of monetary punishment as advertising revenue would be lost. The space would correspond to the seriousness of the infraction.

The exceptions to the right of reply to serious criticism would be limited to non-availability to respond or unwillingness to respond.

The right of reply had to be explicitly included in cases where privacy, dignity and reputation were concerned, in a matter of public importance, or where a person was seriously criticised.

A prohibition of hate speech should be included in the text of the Press Code and not just in the preamble.

Children should be reported on holistically, and not only negatively or as victims.

The PFC's recommendations on photographs of child pornography and sexual conduct included that the protection of the identity of child victims of rape be stricter than provided for in the Children's Act.

The identity of children with HIV/Aids should be protected even more by requiring that not only the child's parent or caregiver give consent, but that publication be in the public interest.

PFC commissioner Prof Kobus van Rooyen said the commission had not been able to find another system in the world like the one proposed.

Mantashe said he wanted the ANC's national executive committee to read and discuss the report, but his initial response was that it was "very acceptable".

At its conference in Polokwane in 2007 the ANC decided that it would investigate setting up a media appeals tribunal because it was unhappy with the state of the media and its level of transformation.

SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) chairman Mondli Makhanya said that the media occasionally had shortcomings so [it] needed a strong mechanism for accountability.

He said the new system would be a radical departure from previous systems.

Editors had accepted it and would discuss it to see what was expected of them.

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