“Let’s stop meaningless journalism.”
That was the cry from new South African press ombudsman Joe Nong Thloloe at a forum, themed Leading Conversations, held on Tuesday.
The forum provided an opportunity for journalists and editors to interact with thought leaders on topical issues.
Thloloe, a former South African Broadcasting Corporation and e.tv news editor-in-chief and former deputy editor of the Sowetan, was appointed to the position at the launch of the new Press Council of South Africa on Friday August 3.
The council is a newly formed institution that replaces the Press Founding Bodies Committee. The council has a total of 24 members, with 12 coming from the Office of the Press Ombudsman and 12 from the Appeal Panel.
Thloloe described the founding-bodies committee as a clumsy institution, and felt that the new South African Press Council should prove a more efficient body.
The council will “interface” between the public and the press ombudsman and will also interface with the government, “enabling the ombudsman to adjudicate properly”.
“The system provides a chance for the poor to clear their name,” said Thloloe.
He called for “freedom of expression, a free flow of information and to higher the standards of journalism”.
Meanwhile, freedom of expression is not well understood by many South Africans, outgoing press ombudsman Ed Linington said in his final report.
“It has been my experience over 10 years as ombudsman that as a consequence of that restrictive past, freedom of expression is neither well understood nor well received by many South Africans,” said Linington.
There can be no doubt that South Africa will be “well served” by the new press council, Linington said.
For the first time, the ombudsman will be able to call on members of the Appeals Panel, from both press and public sides, to help decide difficult complaints.
This will have the added benefit of speeding up the process by making it less likely that either the newspaper or the complainant would lodge an appeal against a three-person decision, as opposed to a decision by the ombudsman acting alone. Judge Ralph Zulman, retiring from the Supreme Court of Appeal, took over from Judge Edwin King as chairperson of the Appeals Panel.
Thloloe admits that there is a visibility problem and says his first step is to “rebrand the press ombudsman in terms of logo and public awareness and also to ensure that the website becomes more interactive and user-friendly with relevant and recent case studies”.
“The system is to correct the wrong and to clear the names of the injured party. Those wishing punitive compensation should take it to the court.
“Print media must come together to assist and to aim for higher journalistic standards.”