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Afrique du sud : Promote Excellence in Journalism, Defend the Profession from Government and Corporate Influence

Right2Know statement on Press Council Reform

D 18 mars 2011     H 14:00     A Right2Know     C 0 messages

Introduction & Background

The Right2Know Campaign is committed to the free flow of information in South Africa. We believe that a diverse press – including large sections that are not owned by government and/or large corporations – is critical to ensuring those living in South Africa enjoy full access to information.

The Right2Know Campaign fully rejects resolutions from the 2010 ANC National General Council proposing that Parliament investigate the establishment of a Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) or any other government regulation of editorial content in the print sector. Private and non-profit print and on-line media do not use any limited national resources like broadcast media and should not be have their content regulated by Government in any way. Any government regulation of the print media should be aimed at enabling greater diversity of titles – in particular the development of publication that meet the information needs of poor and working class communities.

The Right2Know Campaign notes with concern the trend in the commercial media over the past decades to reduce budgets for staffing and ongoing training of journalists. We believe this under-resourcing of newsrooms and editorial processes is a critical factor of the increased inaccurate and superficial reporting.

The increased publishing of sponsored ‘advertorials’, loss of experienced and senior journalists to the profession and the rise of a massive public relations industry have further undermined the quality of South Africa’s journalism.

The past decades have also seen the consolidation of monopoly control of the South African media with five corporations (four commercial and the public SABC) controlling over 90% of print and broadcast media. Efforts to promote a vibrant non-profit and community media sector have been largely hampered by the underfunding of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) and the commercial print sector’s use of their considerable capital reserves when competing with small and independent print projects.

Taken together, these factors have undermined the quality and diversity of our media and created the political space for the ANC to call for the MAT that will amount to post-publication censorship and create a chilling effect on press freedom in South Africa.

It is in this context that the Right2Know Campaign welcomes South African Press Council’s proactive efforts to review and strengthen their mechanisms for ensuring excellence in journalistic practice and ethics.

Recommendations to the Press Council

Self regulation of the media implies that the publications that are affiliated to the Press Council should remain in control of their regulatory mechanisms – the South African Press Code, the South African Press Ombudsman (SAPO) and Press Appeals Tribunal (SAPAP).

The SAPO and SAPAP could enhance there effectiveness and credibility by :

1. Adequately resourcing the complaints structures to investigate and hear complaints within the shortest possible time ;

2. To proactively initiate investigations/hearings into potential violations of the ethical code ;

3. To promote and educate readers about the Press Code by obligating the publications within its jurisdiction print the Code of Ethics on a regular basis (at least monthly) and have prominent link to the code on their websites.
In addition, a Press Council independent of the commercial interests of their members should expand its mandate to :

4. Oblige its members to invest in ongoing training of Journalists and monitor the efficacy of such training ;

5. Oblige its members to resource editorial process with the necessary staff to ensure better reporting and the checking of facts ;

6. Oblige its members to increase funding for the MDDA to promote media diversity ;

7. Support efforts, including anti-trust laws, aimed at growing community and independent print titles ;

8. Support the efforts of trade unions and association of journalists to work with their employers to secure working conditions in which journalists can push the boundaries of excellence in the profession.

Lastly, the Right2Know Campaign notes that the Press Council only has jurisdiction over journalists working for publications that are members of the Press Council and that these are primarily large corporate publishing houses. We call on journalists working for other publications – including community and non-profit publications – to work to develop alternative and appropriate codes of ethics to govern their work as well as mechanisms to ensure that they adhere to these codes.