Editors not invited to media indaba

The ANC appears to have initiated its long-threatened parliamentary inquiry into a statutory media appeals tribunal in the form of a parliamentary indaba on diversity and transformation in the print media.

However, the ruling party forgot to invite a key industry representative, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef).

Eric Kholwane, who chairs Parliament’s communications committee, has sent out last-minute invitations to an indaba on September 22 and 23 on the diversity and transformation of print media.

Some civil groups opposed to a media appeals tribunal have also been omitted from the list.

Although Sanef is included on the scheduled list of participants in round-table discussions on day two, its chair, Mondli Makhanya, said the forum had not received an invitation.
“I would hate to believe we’ve been deliberately excluded. Maybe the invitation is still in the post,” he said.

Dale McKinley, a spokesperson for the Right2Know national working group, which is preparing for next week’s National Assembly debate on the Protection of Information Bill, said the group had also not received an invitation.

“We will definitely try to attend,” McKinley said. “There might not be anything sinister in us not being invited, but we’ll just have to force our way in, as we did when debates began on the Information Bill.”

Another media nongovernmental organisation left out in the cold is Media Monitoring Africa. Its director, William Bird, said: “The fact that they are only inviting big cheeses, and the short notice, indicates that they are lining up the big players while the rest of us have to hear about it via the grapevine. This only fuels conspiracy theories.”

The indaba may be about diversity and transformation in print media, but the invitation was accompanied by an explanatory statement which suggested that media regulation would be a central theme.

“Print media operates within a self-regulated system presided [over] by the press ombudsman and the Press Council,” read the statement. “There have also been a number of discussions in South Africa regarding the continuous shabby journalism, declining of journalism standards, inaccurate, unfair and irresponsible reporting, the inadequate powers of the press ombudsman to deter and discourage this practice, continuous non-compliance and non-adherence to the very existing press code and a lack of accountability from the media.”

This, it said, had led to a number of players calling for effective self-regulation of print media, “complemented” by an independent appeal mechanism.

The indaba should be seen in the context of the discourse regarding media accountability, the statement said, adding: “In due course, Parliament will develop an approach on the inquiry into media accountability mechanisms and balancing of rights as enshrined in the Constitution.”

Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes said it appeared as though the parliamentary process was being deliberately rushed.

“It’s clear that having completed its work on the anti-democratic Protection of State Information Bill, Parliament is now preparing the ground to consider a further—and potentially even more threatening—regulatory assault on the media.”

“The document setting out the rationale for the ‘indaba’ mirrors precisely the ANC’s policy documents on print media in linking competition issues, transformation, diversity and the call for a media appeals tribunal, which would create a politically appointed body of press commissars.

“The fact that crucial stakeholders, including Print Media South Africa, were given just three working days to prepare for such a complex and important engagement suggests that the parliamentary process is being rushed and, indeed, rigged against newspaper groups,” Dawes said.

But Print Media South Africa chief executive Ingrid Louw welcomed the indaba, insisting that it was not about the proposed media tribunal.

“Transformation talks to the ­business side of the print media industry and business imperatives,” said Louw.

“The issue is long overdue and it is going to be very interesting.”

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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