The African National Congress (ANC) has put the establishment of a media appeals tribunal on the backburner after severe pressure from civil society.
The tribunal was proposed at the party’s national conference in 2007 to adjudicate complaints from citizens about print media publications.
ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte said on Tuesday at a panel discussion organised by the Media24 Journalism Academy that the media tribunal was discussed by the ANC, but it was decided ”now is not the time and place for tribunals”.
She said the views on the tribunal are ”shifting” and it needs to be taken back to a policy conference or national conference because it was proposed at Polokwane, but the ANC is under no obligation to implement it.
The party came under immense pressure from editors and journalists when it mooted the idea of a media tribunal that would effectively serve the same purpose as the press ombudsman, but be under the control of politicians.
Said Duarte: ”We found that the press ombudsman’s office is very weak and needs to be more professional in its dealings with facts and issues. There are two people there and then the media comes there with advocates and legalise everything.”
Press Council Ombudsman Joe Thloloe told editors at a meeting of the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) in February that he hoped to have a deputy ombudsman appointed soon to help deal with election-related complaints against newspapers.
Having received 126 serious complaints against newspapers in the whole of 2008, Thloloe noted that he had already received 16 complaints in January this year, Sanef said in a statement.
During the debate, which included Democratic Alliance elections boss Ryan Coetzee and Congress of the People spokesperson JJ Tabane, Duarte accused the media of a ”bubblegum approach” because they are ”highly critical” of the leaders of the ruling party.
”Even when comrade Nelson Mandela was released, people were writing questioning his abilities because he spent years in jail. Then people were critical of Thabo Mbeki when he became president.”
At the ANC’s national conference in Polokwane in 2007, the party decided the establishment of a media appeals tribunal must be investigated.
The tribunal was meant to be constituted by Parliament and ”strengthen, complement and support the current self-regulatory institutions [press ombudsman/press council] in the public interest”.
As an explanation for the ANC’s about-turn on the matter, Duarte said the strengthening of the office of the ombudsman will instead be supported by the ruling party.
”After a number of engagements with the ombudsman it was found the office of the ombudsman would be beefed up. At the moment it is only two people and a small group that look at matters.”