Press ombud must issue 'space fines'

2012-01-31 19:51

Johannesburg - Newspapers should be issued with a "space fine" when they contravene aspects of the Press Code, Independent Newspapers said on Tuesday.

"If a monetary fine is issued, newspapers will just include a certain amount for fines in their yearly budget. It will be like water on a duck's back," The Star's editor Moegsien Williams said in a presentation to the Press Freedom Commission's (PFC) public hearings in Johannesburg.

"The beautiful thing of a space fine is that the entire organisation, including the management of newspapers will be involved. It puts a greater pressure on the editorial staff to get things right."

Williams said a space fine would allocate space in the newspaper for an apology, depending on the nature of the infraction.

Sharper teeth

He said the fine would give the ombudsman "sharper teeth" while still allowing the media to regulate itself.

"The damage to democracy will be incalculable if tampered with. A media appeals tribunal will be the death knell of a free press in South Africa."

City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, who spoke on behalf of Media24, said the organisation favoured self-regulation over independent regulation, and opposed state involvement.

"We think that it [self-regulation] is a standard-setter, that it sets the values and ethics. It can determine a culture and can be innovative when the media landscape changes.

Chilling effect

"We believe that any state involvement in regulation will have a chilling effect. I'd be lying to you if I said that in the past 18 months I haven't begun to feel those chilled winds already."

She said she was not always happy with the ombudsman's decisions, but knew that following the Press Code made her a better journalist and editor.

"We once called a culvert a low-lying bridge. The ombud finds fault no matter how trivial, and we have to adhere to it. Our reporters have now had some engineering training, so now we will call a culvert, a culvert," she joked.

She said the City Press had issued a page two apology for the error. It had also issued a front page apology for a story on ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa.

"Phosa said the ruling and the front page apology had made amends and [had] set things right," she said.

  • goyougoodthing - 2012-01-31 20:03

    Freedom is FREEDOM. What don;t people get about this?

      maseratifittipaldi - 2012-01-31 20:23

      They are just debating the size of the cage.

      mariuskowie - 2012-01-31 21:22

      @ maseratifittipaldi, I fully agree. The downside of having a cage is that there are only limited space. The entry for new players in the media market will be made infinitely more difficult. In business terms, the media is getting micro-managed. The regime must be taking their ques from China......

  • Cracker - 2012-01-31 20:25

    The standards that should apply for justifiable publication must not be pushed too high. The media and observers must not now be sidetracked. One possibility is of course not to exclude other legal options if the ombudsman or whoever is approached. Perhaps an expedited press or media court UNDER THE AUSPICES AND CONTROL OF JUDGES OF THE HIGH COURT should be instituted with simplified and inexpensive processes. If done in, you take your case to the regulator (ombudsman or whoever, as long as it is not associated with government or Parliament) and you retain the right to sue for whatever in a specialized court for media matters but (to reiterate) under judges of the High Court. What must NOT be tampered with is the common sense journalistic guidelines to publish. Raise it and we are in real trouble. Those members of society who do not agree with it must get out of their high positions. We are witnessing a play with our democracy. The reporting of events, gossip and political dishonesty will never be perfect. But it is the only sort of a defense we as the ordinary people have against some very potential exploitation.

      Cracker - 2012-01-31 20:59

      The media is often little more than a more sophisticated form of gossip. That is how society is. A gossip nest. Nothing wrong with it. Instead of waiting for the mouth-to-ear spreading of news we now have the modern version with print etc. And actually far more reliable.

  • George - 2012-01-31 20:30

    And when the gov does something wrong os says something and then WE take it out of context, just like the king etc, will this also apply or not

  • jacques.koorts - 2012-01-31 20:33

    space cakes are one thing, but space fines?

      Yar - 2012-01-31 21:00

      Proposed by a space cadet!

  • Godfrey - 2012-01-31 20:50

    Having been a victim in the distant past, I go along with a space penalty to be defined as "Equal prominence and equal headline type for the retraction". The media cannot expect to just print a screaming and damaging headline and report, get it all wrong, and print a small retraction on the bottom of page 5.

  • sandy.langenstrass - 2012-01-31 20:52

    I trust that the DA will fight tooth and nail to prevent the govnerment going a head with stopping media FREEDOM. I've only been flowing news items with the comments from the public for's good to give an opinion(some get a little crazy)...would this be something they would investigate here in our comments as well...some of you might land up in jail if that's the case.Let's support the DA inwhere we can in this fight.

  • Sean - 2012-01-31 21:33


  • Brand - 2012-01-31 22:36

    The media must be regulated more tightly. Like the article said normal fines just do not have an impact. Unfortunately the media has reached a point where selling papers is more important than the absolute unbiased truth. There's no such thing as free media; it either belongs to the state or to its money driven owners. If a country is lucky it can settle somewhere between the two extremes. In SA however we've gone from the one extreme (state controlled) to the other (any story that will sell will do, regardless of the impact on the country, economy and personal lives). We need an independant regulator! Self regulation is not working!

      goyougoodthing - 2012-02-01 07:07

      Nonsense you don't know what you are talking about.

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