New Press Ombud Pippa Green committed to free, independent media

2019-03-07 04:59
Pippa Green

Pippa Green

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Ask any journalist what the name Pippa Green brings to mind and they will likely mention words like journalistic excellence, integrity and experience.

So it is prudent that she was recently appointed as the new Press Ombud, a role that requires all these qualities and more to ensure a credible, independent media.

The three retired judges who appointed her, justices Yvonne Mokgoro, Phillip Levinsohn and Bernard Ngoepe, cited her "extensive news media and academic experience, her commitment to freedom of expression, media ethics and journalistic standards as well as her high profile in the industry".

They expressed confidence that she would "maintain the confidence of both the industry and the public in the credibility and authority of the Press Ombud".

In her office at the University of Cape Town's Research Project on Employment, Income Distribution and Inclusive Growth (REDI) which she leaves behind at the end of the month, the veteran journalist seems relaxed yet excited about the prospects of her new job.

New challenge

She's taken some time to read through some of the findings of her predecessor, but can't say with confidence if that makes her prepared for the new challenge.

Green takes over the office from Johan Retief, who has held it for nearly a decade and during this time has had to rule on contentious matters and complaints against the media.

"If you read the finding against the Sunday Times for the rogue unit stories… that was made before we had the knowledge of state capture and the role the Guptas were playing and it was all a muddle then. Within that he applied the basic principles of journalism to make quite a strong finding against the Sunday Times on what was not one story, but a series of stories," Green says.

"We now know what happened with SARS. We now know how it's affected the country. To have messed with SARS has a significance that will last for years, even if they fix it now. So it was probably a crucial point to look at the role of journalism in a democracy. Within that context I find that finding extremely impressive."

Green started her career as a journalist at the Cape Argus in 1982 and went on to work at, among other places, The Saturday Independent and the SABC.

She is also the author of former finance minister Trevor Manuel's biography, Choice Not Fate: The Life and Times of Trevor Manuel and has done extensive research in the fields of journalism and economics. She believes that the purpose of journalism is to provide information to citizens to make them free and self-governing.

"The thing that worries me is the bread and butter of the media. Because the newsrooms are small and our time and resources limited we are sucked into being very reactive. So, what happens on Twitter will lead a news bulletin quite frequently and we don't hear voices outside of there. We live in a country that's vastly unequal where a lot of people don't have a voice in any kind of media," she says.

"The other thing that worries me is that the key institutions, the Constitutional Court, the committees of Parliament, the courts… are not being rigorously reported on."

Disinformation

In a time where the truth is constantly being challenged and the spread of disinformation is the order of the day, Green's new job adjudicating on matters where the media is being accused of overstepping its freedom will not be easy, particularly in the run-up to the upcoming national election.

"Maybe I'm an optimist but I think there will be a time when people begin to make the discernment between what is fake news and what is real news. To get there you have to have certain transparent standards that you know the real news organisations adhere to," Green says.

"If you're going to find the truth you have to be able to verify [your information]. In large groups of newspapers we're losing sight of those principles. We have to focus on the basics."

Green starts in the position of Press Ombud on 1 April.

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Read more on:    pippa green  |  cape town  |  media freedom  |  media
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