Media punishment should be ‘proportionate’

Punishment given to newspapers for irresponsible reporting should be “proportionate” to the harm caused, said Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) on Thursday.

“There needs to be better ways to deal with offences of the press,” MMA spokesperson Taryn Hinton said at public hearings conducted by the Press Council at the University of the Witwatersrand.

“The punishment dished out to a newspaper should be equal to the nature of the offence. If a gross violation article was published on a front page the apology should be on the front page as well.”

Hinton also suggested “restorative justice”.

“There should some sort of a fund where if newspapers wrote a story violating a child’s right, the newspaper would pay towards the child’s education.

“If it is a politician, they would then have to run a profile highlighting the good things he/she is involved in.”

The system of punishment used should also be in line with the Constitution.

Hinton did not think the proposed Medial Appeals Tribunal was a solution, because it had the potential of clamping down on media freedom.

More accountability
“The current media self regulatory system needs to be improved; the quality of reporting needs to be improved; and more accountability is needed from the media,” she said.

The MMA also submitted that the section of the Press Code that says no payment should be made for feature articles to persons engaged in crime or other notorious misbehaviour, or their associates, including family, friends neighbours and colleagues, should be amended.

“I find that clause very peculiar because it only prohibits payment of criminals, (or) their neighbours only. We are proposing a ban generally, not just from criminals,” said head of media policy at MMA, Prinola Govender.

She said the Press Council had to ensure that the public was aware of its existence and the Press Code.

The Press Council is holding public hearings with the aim of reviewing its constitution, the Press Code and how it handles complaints. There was a poor turn out of only three ordinary members of the public at the first day of the hearings in Johannesburg.

As from next week, the hearings would be held in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Durban. — Sapa

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