/ 28 May 2011

Press complaints tally for 2011 may double that of 2009

The press ombudsman expects the total number of complaints lodged with it for 2011 to be nearly double the tally for 2009, an South African National Editors’ Forum Council meeting in Johannesburg was told on Saturday.

“We received 150 in 2009, 213 in 2010 and, if the rate of increase continues, this will increase to about 270 by the end of 2011,” deputy ombudsman Johan Retief told editors gathered at the Nelson Mandela Foundation headquarters in Houghton.

The newspaper industry’s self-regulation system, via the ombudsman’s office and the Press Council, to address complaints about inaccurate or unethical news reports is under pressure from the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which has proposed a state media appeals tribunal which would deal harshly with media found guilty of wrong reporting.

The media industry and proponents of freedom of speech have lobbied against the ANC plan while also looking into ways to strengthen self regulation.

The editors’ meeting noted that the continued increase in the number of complaints from people was due to the increased public visibility of the press ombudsman since the debate arose.

The ombudsman’s office has in the past few years made some significant findings against newspapers, requiring the prominent publication of corrections and apologies.

Giving more numbers, Retief said the number of complaints so far to May 19 2011 was 104. This total was only reached towards the end of August last year.

The total number of complaints received between February to May 19 was 86, and 23 findings had been made so far this year — equivalent to more than one a week.

Asked if there were any discernible trends from the complaints and findings, Retief responded the most common transgression of reporters and newspapers was stating allegations as fact, and without proper attribution of sources.

There have been 31 rulings from the Press Council for 2011 so far. Documentation of complaints and rulings can be found on the Press Council’s website.