ANC’s Media Tribunal Unacceptable

By Samantha Perry – The Professional Journalists’ Association of South Africa (ProJourn) notes with concern the re-emergence of calls by the ANC for an ‘independent’ media tribunal.

The call for a media tribunal constituted by the ruling party raises the spectre of Apartheid-era attempts to control the media and its right to report freely and without hindrance. Such a tribunal would rob the public of its right to information, set media freedom back decades and erode the hard won freedoms of our new democracy.

ProJourn very strongly believes government should not be regulating the media in any way, let alone in a way that will effectively result in pre-publication censorship.

The media is an industry that regulates itself. The Ombudsman, Joe Thloloe, is a highly respected journalist who has more than once proved the independence of the office in his rulings.

Allegations made in the Letters section of Business Day today that Mr Thloloe refuses to police former colleagues or ‘bite the hand that feeds’ should be treated with the contempt they deserve. Calls, reiterated in said letter, to end brown envelope journalism (where a journalist is paid to compromise their integrity and editorial independence) through a ‘zero-fault’ system are unnecessary given that this rarely happens in SA, and instances where it does happen are

dealt with rapidly and effectively by editors, as in the recent Ashley Smith/Cape Argus case. In this case the money paid to Smith was under the direction of the Premier of a (then) ANC-led province and was aimed at undermining a rival faction in his own party. Yet the only action taken so far was by the Cape Argus, which published details on what had transpired as soon as they came to light, and took action against the offending journalists.

Issues that have been raised by critics of the current system include that it is a form of self-regulation, and that bodies going to the Ombudsman have to waive their right to seek legal recourse on the matter if they take it to the Ombudsman.

ProJourn believes that self-regulation is a reasonable and accepted means for an industry to govern itself. The media profession is not the only one regulated this way – the legal and advertising industries both come immediately to mind.

The second issue, that complainants have to waive the right to legal recourse when taking a matter to the Press Ombudsman, may need further debate, and may indeed need to be revisited. If so, that should only happen after transparent discussions, involving all interested

parties, so that an outcome can be reached that delivers the best possible solution to the problem while preserving those media freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, and protecting the rights of those being reported on.

The Professional Journalists’ Association promotes ethical and balanced reporting and analysis in South Africa in support of diversity and democracy, defends the rights of working journalists in their professional work and in their reflection of the voices of the public whom they serve, and argues for sound governmental and corporate policy relating to the gathering and dissemination of information.