Take The Media Appeals Tribunal Off The Table

By Samantha Perry – The Professional Journalists’ Association of South Africa supports calls made by City Press editor Ferial Haffajee and Wits University’s Prof Anton Harber last night at the Critical Thinking Forum, hosted by M&G and Amandla, for the ANC to take the proposed media appeals tribunal off the table.

While ProJourn believes that there is room to evaluate and strengthen the mechanisms through which the print media regulates itself, it fully agrees with comments made during the debate last night that such impetus for self-improvement should not come from the ANC, but rather from within the media itself.

ProJourn agrees that the media faces challenges in terms of ownership, transformation and diversity, a point made by Jackson Mthembu, the national ANC spokesperson, and concurred with by Harber and the AIDC’s Mark Weinberg.

It further agrees with Harber, who noted that the ANC is taking on the privately owned media but doing nothing about the broadcast and community media.

Harber challenged the ANC to sort out the SABC and “get serious” about supporting community media first.

ProJourn believes that the much maligned press ombudsman has operated reasonably well, with a host of decisions going against the media, who have been ordered to publish apologies and corrections, often on their front pages.

Most recently, City Press was ordered to print a front page correction in connection with a story relating to Matthews Phosa, while the Saturday Star was instructed to also publish a page one correction to a story relating to the murder of AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche.

These, as well as many other judgements – both in favour and against the press – when examined closely, show that there is no case for accusations of bias when it comes to the press ombudsman, contrary to the unwarranted and unsubstantiated criticism directed at this office by the ANC.

A retired judge listens to appeals and members of the public have recourse to the editor concerned, and the courts, besides lodging a complaint with the press ombudsman.

Mthembu made the point that while the media has come out strongly against the proposed media appeals tribunal no alternatives have been suggested. ProJourn believes that the alternatives would be, as suggested on several occasions, to review and strengthen the current system. There is no alternative to self-regulation that would be acceptable.

A statutory body (and the statutory bit is the important part, as Harber stated last night) should not and could not be acceptable to the media, or any right-thinking citizen with an eye on their constitutional rights and hard-won freedoms.

ProJourn would like to state its support for taking the proposed media appeals tribunal off the table, and for the print media to institute a review of the current system with a view to strengthening self-regulation, perhaps through increased funding (thus increasing the press ombudsman’s resource base and capacity), and by running ongoing campaigns to inform the public of their rights, ala the Broadcasting Complaints Commission adverts.

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.