The print media was, as usual, overreacting to the African National Congress’s (ANC) intentions to investigate the establishment of a media tribunal in South Africa, ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe said on Sunday.
Motlanthe and African National Congress communications chief Pallo Jordan were speaking at the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) question-and-answer session in Cape Town.
Editors and senior journalists expressed their deep concern at potential infringement of media freedom in South Africa should the investigation into a tribunal go ahead.
At its conference last December, the ANC resolved to set up an investigation into the need for a tribunal.
”The aim is to strengthen the self-regulation mechanism of the print media … there is no such thing as an attack on media freedom,” Motlanthe said.
”As usual the media are overreacting. They say that the ANC is hyper-sensitive to criticism but look at the reaction of the media to this the tribunal — they see it as an attack on media freedom.”
Motlanthe said the debate was, in fact, about the competing rights and freedoms of the media against the right to privacy and the personal dignity of people.
Jordan said it was understandable, given the history of media repression in South Africa, that editors reacted so quickly to any suggestions they were not doing their jobs properly.
”If you want to engage in the cut and thrust of politics you must not only be able to dish out but also to take it … without crying and squealing.”
Jordan said the ANC had a good record on media freedom.
”Media freedom has been on the masthead of the ANC since its inception … there is no [South African] political party with a comparable record on media freedom”.
”We value it … it lends quality to our democracy and it should prevail,” Jordan said.
The ANC leaders emphasised that the tribunal resolution only set in motion the process of investigating whether there should be one.
”There is a need to participate in this … we need cogent arguments … not only from the media fundis,” Motlanthe said.
”We are dealing with ordinary people’s views. If there is a general feeling that rights are being trampled over by the media and that there is no recourse, or existing mechanisms are not strong and effective enough, then we [need to] respond and engage it,” he said.
Both Motlanthe and Jordan expressed frustration with the existing print media self-regulation mechanism through the Press Council and ombudsman.
”We feel sometimes that the press ombudsman is not robust enough … sometimes we write letters … but we hear nothing,” Motlanthe said.
He conceded, however, that he did not have immediately to hand a list of such instances.
Jordan said his problem was that to get the ombudsman to investigate a complaint, he had to relinquish his constitutional right to sue for defamation in court.
Sanef delegates indicated the question-and-answer session had been informative but said that Motlanthe and Jordan should take back to the party the message that the media tribunal was a bad idea.
If the ANC felt the press ombudsman system was inadequate, it should rather engage on raising these concerns to make it more effective.
Sanef said it reiterated its rejection of the proposed tribunal.
The forum expressed its ”deep confidence in the current self-regulatory mechanisms, which include the Press Ombudsman”.
”Sanef also welcomed the commitment by the new ANC leadership that the South African Broadcasting Corporation should not be a state broadcaster or an extension of a political party, but rather an independent and public broadcaster.” — Sapa