South Africans don’t complain much, press commission told

The number of complaints to the press ombud in South Africa is relatively low, Jane Duncan of Highway Africa said at the Press Freedom Commission (PFC) hearings on Monday.

Speaking in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, her voice echoed around the largely empty room where the hearings are being held until Wednesday.

While 7.8 per 100 000 people in the UK lay complaints about the media, only 0.5 per 100 000 do so in South Africa.

The current model has little public buy-in, she said. The press council is not representative of journalists, but rather of editors and others in management positions. A model of “self-regulation based on the principle of journalistic peer-review” is needed to change this, she said.

If this could happen then the council could have the moral authority to gain support and even become proactive, she said. It should then establish a “press investigations office”. This would ask questions and find problems in the industry before people had to complain to bring attention to such issues, she said.

To finance this, she said, a new “objective funding formula” for the council — based on circulation — should be created. But with decreasing circulation it is “possible and even likely that ethical transgressions will increase”, she warned.

With regard to moves by government to regulate the press, she said “statutory regulation can invite creeping amendments to laws”.

A delegation from Rhodes University said it was the responsibility of citizens to hold the government accountable, and the press should help them to do so.

Professor Lynette Steenveld said the delegation favoured a form of “co-regulation that includes members of the public”. Any council should be made up of members of the media and the public, she said. Above all, different kinds of media were needed to accommodate every voice in the political spectrum. This “plurality” would stop any claims and fears by groups that there was only one voice coming from the media, she said.

Professor Anthea Garman said, “Some way of introducing a citizen’s agenda has to be embraced.” There should be “community input” into editorial decisions. This will allow newspapers to address issues that citizens are talking about, rather than simply reacting to events, she said.

Medical practitioner Ebrahim Hassim knocked people in the audience who were dozing into life with loud recriminations of the media. “The media has not shown itself fit to regulate itself,” he said. He attacked the waiver — which stops people taking their case to an outside arbitrary body while they are using the press council — and said he had lodged many complaints without success. “Editors would edit my letters” and ascribe to him things he had not written, he said.

Advocate Lawrence Mushwana, of the Human Rights Commission, encouraged the Commission to “intensify” its current process. By looking at the differing submissions, it will be able to create a comprehensively better organisation, he said. Noting the “tension” between government and the media, he said: “It is a necessary tension.”

Sipho Kings
Sipho is the Mail & Guardian's News Editor. He also does investigative environment journalism.

Stranded commuters say Ramaphosa’s rail promises ring hollow

Cape Town’s largest passenger rail line has been closed for months, hitting people’s pockets and adding to road traffic congestion

EFF ‘circus’ becomes contagion as MPs heckle Malema

ANC MPs test the EFF’s disruptive tactics on the leader of the Red Berets in Sona reply

Ramaphosa ‘neutral’ in Mkhwebane, Parliament impeachment row

However, the president says even if he has a conflict of interest, another Cabinet member could suspend the public protector

Strike-off case pulls in judge

Judge Mushtak Parker is implicated in an application to strike off his former partners. He is also involved in the fight between the Western Cape high court’s judge president and his deputy

Press Releases

Response to the report of the independent assessors

VUT welcomes the publishing of the report of the independent assessors to investigate concerns of poor governance, leadership, management, corruption and fraud at the university.

NWU student receives international award

Carol-Mari Schulz received the Bachelor of Health Sciences in Occupational Hygiene Top Achiever Award.

Academic programme resumes at all campuses

Lectures, practicals, seminars and tutorials will all resume today as per specific academic timetables.

Strategic social investments are a catalyst for social progress

Barloworld Mbewu enables beneficiaries to move away from dependence on grant funding

We all have a part to play to make South Africa work

Powering societal progress demands partnerships between all stakeholders

So you want to be a social entrepreneur?

Do the research first; it will save money and time later

Social entrepreneurship means business

Enterprises with a cause at their core might be exactly what our economy desperately needs

Looking inwards

Businesses are finding tangible ways to give back – but only because consumers demand it