/ 24 August 2010

‘Overwhelming support’ for tribunal

The proposed media appeals tribunal is receiving "overwhelming support" from South Africans, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said on Monday.

The proposed media appeals tribunal (MAT) is receiving “overwhelming support” from South Africans, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said during a debate on the matter in Johannesburg on Monday.

“Not all people think the same, we have received overwhelming support from our branches, provinces and different sectors of society,” he said at Wits University.

Most South Africans felt the self-regulation of the media industry “left so much to be desired”.

“In other sectors, like business, you can be removed or stopped from practising if you breach the ethics of that profession.”

He said the African National Congress wanted to strengthen the media’s current regulatory mechanism. The party was looking for an independent body to promote media freedom, not muzzle it, but discourage irresponsible reporting. He compared what they were proposing to the Independent Electoral Commission, “which is not biased towards any political party”.

Press ombudsman Joe Thloloe said the media was not against an inquiry into the possibility of a statutory tribunal, but they were against the fact that some members of the ANC had already implied it was “a done deal”.

“We would gladly participate if there wasn’t this implied threat,” he said.

“We are prepared to review what we do and we will. Don’t put a gun to our temple and force us to contribute to the MAT.”

Responding to Mthembu’s comments, SA National Editors’ Forum media freedom committee chairperson Thabo Leshilo said there was overwhelming opposition to the tribunal, and more support for free speech in the country.

“There were concerns not only from the media, but from as far as Abahlali baseMjondolo [a shack dwellers’ organisation] and the homeless supporting the media on this one,” Leshilo said to laughter.

“We do not need government or Parliament meddling in our journalism.” The print media had its shortcomings, which he said should be dealt with, but the tribunal was not necessary.

Head of the Wits School of Journalism Anton Harber said the media should be accountable, and not be a “free-for-all”.

“It should be accountable to its peers, readers, public, the law and courts. The issue that is being argued here is that journalists cannot be accountable to politicians. We need an independent form of governance … So far what we’ve heard this tribunal is aimed at going after journalists, to imprison and fine them.

“Let’s debate how we can improve our media, the quality of journalism in South Africa.”

Mthembu described the press ombudsman as “toothless”, saying it was failing to hold the media accountable, and that an apology was not enough for unfair reporting.

“All the press ombudsman does it to instruct the newspapers to retract and apologise. How can he impose a fine when he is being paid by the same media?”

Mthembu said the ANC was not looking for a body that would protect corrupt politicians, nor return the country to apartheid.

“Those corrupt individuals should be shamed by the press and everyone.”

The ANC’s aim was to ensure that the right to privacy was respected as much as freedom of expression, he said.

CEO of the Media Development and Diversity Agency Lumko Mtimde said South Africans should be allowed to discuss the tribunal and decide on it. He said this was not a unique investigation and had been conducted in other countries as well.

During its national conference in Polokwane in 2007, the ANC resolved to look into the establishment of a tribunal. This investigation was to be “directed at examining the principle of a MAT and the associated modalities for implementation”. – Sapa