Union points to gaps in media regulation

Media houses have sufficient legislation to express themselves but a vacuum exists when it comes to holding newspapers to account, a union leader said on Thursday.

There was no provision for recourse as the Press Ombudsman had no powers to impose penalties on those it found guilty of breaching codes, said Madoda Sambatha of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

“There remains a policy and legislative vacuum which creates the inability to hold some sections of the media to account when their behaviour is questionable or even illegal,” he said.

Sambatha was addressing a Press Freedom Commission hearing in Cape Town on the regulation of the print media, headed by retired judge president Pius Langa.

He said his union had been affected after the Sowetan newspaper published an article implying it had embezzled money owed to members.

The newspaper had taken one side of the story without checking the facts with the union, he said.

‘Interests of the master’
“NUM clarified the matter to the same newspaper but the paper decides not to publish the clarity because the article has served the interest of the master [capitalists] in tarnishing the image of the revolutionary, care[ing], united, strong and ever-growing union.”

Sambatha said journalists often relied on “brown envelopes” for information.

“The process of retracting a story not originally yours is very difficult.”

He said the consequences should be borne by media houses and not individual journalists or editors.

“I must complain against the Sowetan and not an individual journalist of the Sowetan.”

The Press Freedom Commission, which includes Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and business person Santie Botha, started public hearings in Cape Town on Thursday.

Self-regulatory regime
Hearings are also to be held in Durban and Johannesburg.

So far, it has received more than 190 submissions from political parties, trade unions and media houses.

Its report, due to be completed at the end of March, will form the basis for the possible drafting of a new self-regulatory regime for the print media.

The commission is funded by Print Media South Africa, which represents around 700 newspaper and magazine titles.

Free Society Institute chairperson Jacques Rousseau, told the commission that the media had a large incentive to be honest and transparent because reputation was one of the main factors it traded on.

The romantic idea of a journalist’s valiant search for the truth often did not match up to reality.

He said a priority for media houses was to strengthen internal controls.—Sapa


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