Press ombud confirms rise in newspaper complaints

There was a 70% increase over the last three years in the number of complaints about incorrect or unethical newspaper reports, the Press Council’s Ombudsman reported to editors at a meeting in Cape Town on Saturday.

Speaking at a council meeting of the SA National Editors’ Forum, deputy Press Ombud Johan Retief said complaints grew from 150 in 2009 to 213 in 2010 and to 255 in 2011.

The newspaper industry’s system of self-regulation on complaints via the Press Council and ombudsman system has come under attack in recent years, particularly by the governing African National Congress, which maintains it does not work effectively and is toothless.

The party said the establishment of a statutory Media Appeals Tribunal should be investigated. The newspaper industry has reacted by establishing the Press Freedom Commission of experts from a spectrum of society to investigate various models of press regulation and make recommendations by the end of March.

The ombudsman’s office has previously attributed the increase in complaints to heightened public awareness of its office as a result of the political debate on newspapers’ ethics.

Majority of findings against newspapers
It pointed out that the majority of its findings went against newspapers.

Retief also reported to editors that 53 complaints had been received between mid-November and the end of January this year.

The ombudsman’s findings as published on the internet in 2011 totalled 76.

There was no backlog of cases, although 60 cases were pending.

Thirteen complaints were dismissed out of hand, including one by Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille attempting to have the ombudsman stop the Independent Newspapers group from publishing an ANC celebrations supplement.

See www.presscouncil.org.za for details of the findings.—Sapa

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