The African National Congress Youth League’s (ANCYL) attack on the press ombudsman is aimed at boosting a bid by a faction of the ANC for a media appeals tribunal, the Press Council said on Tuesday.
“This gratuitous attack on the ombudsman is clearly aimed at promoting the aims of a faction in the ANC which proposes that Parliament should investigate the establishment of a media appeals tribunal,” said council chairperson Raymond Louw in a statement.
Louw said ANCYL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu had confirmed this by saying: “Our call for an urgent establishment of the media appeals tribunal has now gained more weight and should be placed on the agenda of Parliament.”
He was responding to Shivambu calling the ombudsman “toothless” and “pathetically useless” after it declined a request by the league for a probe into how two newspapers misquoted ANCYL president Julius Malema.
Louw said the Press Council was “disgusted” by the “unjust attack” on the ombudsman and expressed its support for him.
“This latest disparagement of the press ombudsman and the system is not the first time the youth league has told blatant untruths to discredit the press and its press self-regulatory process, which is largely the same as those used in the majority of the world’s democracies,” he said.
‘Hardly the conduct of a media-house representative’
He said it was untrue that the ombudsman was appointed by media houses and was therefore representing their interests.
“He [the ombudsman] is appointed by an appointments panel headed by a judge appointed by the chief justice and composed of a public and a press representative. A survey of the ombudsman’s rulings shows that more than 60% favour complainants — hardly the conduct of a media-house representative.”
Shivambu said self-regulation of the media in South Africa was a “threat to democracy” and the “dignity of many people” and “should be stopped as soon as possible”.
This after the press ombudsman denied a request by Shivambu that he “consider and investigate” who was responsible for inserting the incorrect quotes into the story that appeared in the Star and Daily Sun newspapers last week.
Both newspapers apologised on their front pages after it became clear that Malema was indeed misquoted as criticising President Jacob Zuma, a move that could have landed him in hot water with the ruling party.
“The Star and the Daily Sun have conceded that they were in breach of the code and have apologised. There is no need to go over that ground again,” said press ombudsman Joe Thloloe.
He said Shivambu’s request suggested he did not understand how the press ombudsman’s system works.
The ombudsman’s mandate included cautioning or reprimanding a publication, directing a publication to publish a correction, retraction, explanation, apology, the findings of the ombudsman, or a complainant’s reply.
Thloloe said it would be up to the individual newspapers and the African Eye News Service (AENS), which supplied the story, to investigate where it went wrong.
‘Not at all shocked’
But Shivambu said on Tuesday: “Predictably, the press ombudsman who is appointed by media houses and therefore their representative, refused to investigate these serious allegations, saying that the press ombudsman is not responsible for investigations. The ANC Youth League is not at all shocked by the response of the press ombudsman, because we are fully aware that lodging a complaint with the press ombudsman is tantamount to seeking ‘cat-justice’.”
Shivambu said the ANCYL would “explore all available avenues, including court action” to find out who inserted the incorrect quote.
“Apologies cannot be used to hide criminal actions of certain editors and sub-editors who concoct quotations and attribute them to the leadership of the ANC Youth League.
“Our call for an urgent establishment of the media appeals tribunal has now gained more weight and should be placed on the agenda of Parliament,” he added.
This comes against the backdrop of the ANC mulling the establishment of a media appeals tribunal for print media.
Part of the ANC’s reasons for a media tribunal included criticism that the press ombudsman system was not effective. Since then, the ombudsman has undertaken to investigate how it could beef up its service to the public. — Sapa