Media Appeals Tribunal will never be independent – DA

Musi Maimane says self-regulation only means by which press freedom can be protected

Media Tribunal revival: DA to oppose its establishment

At the Press Freedom Commission Public Hearings today, Gwede Mantashe, Jessie Duarte and Jackson Mthembu suggested that because the existing media self-regulatory system is ineffective an “independent” Media Appeals Tribunal must be established.

The ANC has clearly placed the establishment of a Media Appeals Tribunal firmly back on the agenda.

Except, this time it has been brought back under the guise that it would be independent from political interference. Any institution set up by the state, reliant on the state for funding, comprising deployed cadres and accountable to politicians, cannot be independent. We have seen how cadre deployment has undermined the independence of Chapter Nine institutions in the past.

This resurgence of the media tribunal comes despite assurances by both Jackson Mthembu and Deputy President Kgalema Mothlanthe last year that the media would be given sufficient time to reform and that the media’s self-regulation should continue.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will oppose the creation of a Media Appeals Tribunal should it be brought to Parliament for debate.

We strongly believe that self-regulation is the only manner in which the freedom of the press, as enshrined in the Constitution, can exist. Self-regulation is the only system based on the principle of peer review, which recognises that journalists themselves are the best placed to judge other journalists’ professional standards. Independent regulation would impose standards external to the industry on journalists and compromise their freedom.

In our submission to the Press Freedom Commission yesterday, we suggested that while self-regulation must be maintained, the following reforms do need to be instituted:

  • Setting and monitoring standards: The South African Press Council should play a proactive role in monitoring journalism standards in the country and acting as a catalyst in encouraging media organisations to improve their own internal standards.
  • Statutory support: Parliament should act to strengthen press freedom by passing legislation which would make the rulings of the Ombudsman legally binding.
  • Investigations into abuse of power: Where there is prime facie evidence of abuse of power by journalists the Ombudsman should be empowered to launch a full investigation, to call witnesses, to subpoena documents, and to make rulings against journalists or the publications they work for.
  • New funding model: A new proportional contribution funding model for the Ombudsman should be investigated, to ensure it has the resources to properly and independently fulfill its mandate.
  • Guide the industry: Rulings of the Ombudsman should be distributed to all editors, to act as guidelines for newsroom practice across the industry. This will allow editors to stay informed on how the Code is being interpreted and applied, and so enable them to stay on the right side of the rules.
  • Wider power of sanction: Apologies and retractions as ordered by the Ombudsman should be printed prominently on the front page, and the text of such apology should be agreed mutually by the complainant and the Ombudsman. The Commission should also reconsider the matter of giving the Ombudsman the power to levy fines as a form of sanction.
  • Inclusion of new media: The Ombudsman’s rulings should apply to non-print media such as websites, video and sound clips produced by print media outlets.
  • Remove ambiguities from the Press Code: Several vague clauses in the current South African Press Code need to be properly and fully defined.
  • A clear definition of editorial and advertorial content: The Code should define in clear terms the difference between editorial and advertorial content. When media companies, proprietors and newspapers themselves advertise in their own newspapers, on websites and social media, then this should be included in the scope of the Press Code, and should be open to complaint.
  • Acceptance of third party complaints: The Press Council should accept third party complaints.