Media tribunal a ‘dangerous move’

A media tribunal would be an “imposition” on media freedom, Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe has warned.

Thloloe said: “Any system imposed from outside the press itself will be in violation of the Constitution.”

He was responding to the ANC’s release of a discussion document entitled Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity, which proposes the setting up of a media appeals tribunal to make the media “accountable”.

Thloloe said he approached the ANC about a month ago to try and get clarity on the talk of a tribunal, which the ANC said would complement the role of the Press Council and Press Ombudsman.

Thloloe said: “I was saying we were getting two different positions. The one, from Polokwane, that there will be an investigation into the possibility of a media tribunal. But also, another position, coming from the alliance very strongly, is a view that a tribunal should be established.

“I went there to ask, where we stand, is there going to be in an investigation or is it (the tribunal) going ahead? I was told they are going to recommend that Parliament should do an investigation.”

He said he would be “happy” to participate in an investigation but expressed doubts about the ANC’s intentions.

“We are happy to participate in any investigation but what worries us are the people who have already made up their minds,” said Thloloe.

The ANC document criticised the Press Ombudsman, saying he could not be objective.

The document states: “The mere fact that the Press Ombudsman is from the media ranks – a former journalist, and not an independent person who looks at the media from the layman’s perspective – poses an inherent bias towards the media.

“All interpretations are favourable to the institution, and the other party just has to accept the media’s way, which is grossly unfair and unjust.”

But Thloloe, a veteran journalist with almost 50 years experience, said the self-regulatory system of the Press Ombudsman had been copied from various other systems across the world.

He said: “The Press Ombudsman’s office and the Press Council are functioning well they don’t need anything else.”

The ANC discussion document is a “very strange document. The arguments they have raised so far are not convincing, we can’t take it further because they haven’t fleshed out the proposal,” he added

SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) chairperson Mondli Makhanya today said Sanef would request a meeting with the ANC to have a “decent conversation” about media freedom.

“There seems to be a huge gulf that has developed between the ANC and the media. We want to sit down with them and a have a decent conversation,” said.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe yesterday invited newspaper editors to join the ruling party’s debate on setting up a statutory media tribunal.

But Makhanya said there was no way Sanef would ever be open to the idea of such a tribunal.

He said: “A media tribunal would be unconstitutional and totally against media freedom. It would be a very, very dangerous move.”

However, Sanef would be willing to discuss the role of the Press Ombudsman and Press Council.

Makhanya said media were not only accountable to the ANC, but to the public, and if the public felt print media’s self-regulation could be improved, it needed to be discussed.

He said: “We would be open to a discussion on how it can be strengthened.”

The ANC wants an independent statutory body accountable to Parliament to deal with complaints against newspapers, instead of only using the Press Ombudsman’s office which currently deals with complaints.

According to The Star newspaper, Mantashe said yesterday: “Our invitation is that media must engage in that debate constructively, throw around ideas and not defend their own turf.

“The fact that editors and columnists in the newspapers are on the defensive is not going to stop us from having that discussion. It’s up to them if they want to contribute to that debate, and actually to influence it.” said Mantashe. 

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