Joe Thloloe slams ANC plan for Media Appeals Tribunal

Press Council executive director Joe Thloloe addresses a Daily Maverick media event in Cape Town. (Paul Herman, News24)
Press Council executive director Joe Thloloe addresses a Daily Maverick media event in Cape Town. (Paul Herman, News24)

Cape Town - Press Council executive director Joe Thloloe has laid into the idea of a Media Appeals Tribunal, saying an eventual Constitutional Court battle will be a waste of taxpayers' money.

Thloloe was addressing a thousand-strong crowd at a Daily Maverick media event at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

The veteran journalist and editor said the Appeals Tribunal proposal was still South Africa's biggest threat to media freedom.

"It's not just the recent intimidation [that is the problem], but the anti-media rhetoric espoused... that could fuel the violence aimed at journalists."

The ANC's resolution to introduce an appeals tribunal to monitor the media was an undemocratic posture, and very soon journalists "would not be free to do their work in their own country".

"The threat of a Media Appeals Tribunal does not worry me; the Constitutional Court will rule against it," he told the audience.

"But by the time we get to the ConCourt, the taxpayers' money and time would have been wasted and publishers would be pulled into the courts for years before it's resolved."

He said it could also further fuel the likes of groups like Black First Land First (BLF) in their anti-media stance.

READ: ANC's position on media appeals tribunal hasn't changed - Mthembu

'Tinkering with democracy'

He also criticised some of the ANC's argument that self-regulation by print media had failed.

"The logic of this alludes me quite frankly. First, there is an unsubstantiated argument that self-regulation has failed.

"Instead of explaining in what way it has failed, they jump to some element that the media has insufficient punitive measures."

The other reason they advanced, he said, was that the Press Council of South Africa was not an independent organisation, and still relies on money from the media it regulates.

"Anybody who does a casual reading of our documents will see we have an architecture that ensures our independence," he said.

The chairperson of the council is a retired judge, Phillip Levinsohn, and the head of the adjudication panel was an active judge, Judge Bernard Ngoepe.

"We are not a court of law, but we see ourselves as an alternative punitive mechanism. We provide speedy and cost-effective processes."

He said 500 people had used their system in 2016, proving South Africans still saw them as a useful organisation.

He said it was unacceptable that wrongdoers could never be exposed as wrong.

"The tinkering of our democracy has started, we have heard it here."

'If it's fake, it can't be news'

In June, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said the party would "defend media freedom", but has again called for Parliament to accelerate the implementation of the establishment of a media appeals tribunal.

"We have not changed. We will put our view on how we can put print media accountable," Mthembu said at the party's national policy conference in July.

"Is it adverse for us to think of a body that looks at accountability of the media appointed in Parliament?"

The party would take proposes policies to its elective conference in December.

Thloloe reminded the ANC and Mthembu that the ANC itself had enshrined media freedom in the Constitution in 1996.

"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media," he said.

He also said media houses should look at improving the quality of their journalism, to battle the rise of "fake news".

"If it's fake, it can't be news."

He said so many people had sacrificed their lives to achieve press freedom.

"As we grapple with the meaning of media freedom in this country, we must remember it's not just for journalists.

"It's for each individual in this country. It's for democracy. How much are we prepared to pay to ensure even this little bit is not pulled from us?" he finished.

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