The ANC may not have emphatically pushed for the dreaded media appeals tribunal at its policy conference this week, but the controversial proposed regulatory system is not off the table.
Since its Polokwane national conference in 2007, the ANC has vehemently referred to a need for a parliamentary investigation into the desirability of a media appeals tribunal, which would account to Parliament because the party felt the press ombudsman was inherently biased towards the media and that litigation was expensive.
Critics of the proposal have questioned its constitutionality.
The party this week did not use the words “media appeals tribunal” when reporting back on the discussions of the communications subcommittee.
Instead, chairperson of the ANC’s subcommittee on communication Jackson Mthembu focused on the call for an urgent parliamentary inquiry that would investigate the best way to regulate print media.
He reiterated that the ANC wanted co-regulation of print media done by a body appointed by Parliament as the party felt that not enough had been done to deal with the grievances of the people and the ANC in relation to the accountability of print media.
“We are not saying what then should be the modalities of holding print media accountable. We are saying we have a Parliament that all of us have voted for and, in 2012 we came with a resolution that the Parliament of the republic must take forward this discourse.
“Is independent regulation the way to go or is self-regulation? Or is what we have now termed after the commission co-regulation the way to go? We will come and make our own input to the media inquiry. What the commission had said is that that media inquiry must happen now,” said Mthembu.
He said print media continued to play an important role, even in this age of convergence and therefore “your means of accountability is important”.
“With this role, you can effect regime change, you can make governments fall and you can make institutions fall because of the power that you hold. How do we ensure that you act responsibly as a people?”
He said Parliament would look at what should be the best mechanism to hold the print media accountable.
“Is your regulatory environment, as it exists now, promoting this accountability, or do we need another mechanism to hold you accountable as print media?”
'Trust the parliamentary process'
Mthembu told City Press that the ANC was not seeking to regulate content, but wanted a body in which it would have confidence that it could deal with nonobjective journalism. The body would be independent of government, independent of the print media and of private business influence.
An ANC member who participated in the discussions told City Press that, while the party has not abandoned its previous resolution for the establishment of a media appeals tribunal, the commission decided to “trust the parliamentary process”.
The push for the media tribunal allegedly came from KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC Youth League and the ANC Women’s League, which argued that the media spread lies about people and, once found guilty of wrongdoing, would hide the apology in the back pages.
“But others pushed back, saying let’s trust the parliamentary process,” said the source.
The source said concerns were also raised in relation to Independent Media and The New Age newspaper’s decision to withdraw from the activities of the Press Council of SA.