Press Freedom Commission report welcomed

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has welcomed the principles embodied in a report released by the Press Freedom Commission (PFC).

The PFC was launched in July 2011 to look at the current press regulatory system and create a better model through public consultation. It released its recommendations at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Mantashe said the recommendations “put independence to regulation” and planned to send copies to all the branches of his party so further deliberation could occur. “The principles embodied here give us what we think is legitimate regulation of the media,” he said.

This is in line with the call for “independent regulation“that he made when the ANC gave its submission to the PFC’s ‘Listening to South Africa’ hearings.

The members of the PFC — a panel of nine people, headed by former chief justice Pius Langa — emphasised that their proposal is for a “system of co-regulation between the press and the public, with the public having the upper hand”.

After sifting through 230 submissions and travelling to countries like Tanzania and Denmark the PFC has created a “gold standard”, it announced.

Professor Kobus van Rooyen, a member of the PFC, said the recommendations “have created something new and moved us further than any system I could find”.

The main aim of the recommendations is to create a “regulator which is not going to decide on the conduct of the press, but rather on their wrongdoings”, said Professor Kwame Karikari, the director of the Media Foundation for West Africa and PFC member.

By extracting the main complaints from the public submissions, Langa said, “We believe that we have addressed all the complaints.”

The biggest move is the public representation on the Press Council of South Africa (PCSA). It will be composed of seven members of the public and five members of the media, with half of the panel.

An “appointments panel” will check people who apply for the positions, and provision has been made for a retired judge to head this.

All appeals will be heard by at least three members of the public and one member of the press.

Another recommendation of the PFC is “space fines” to be levied where a publications content was found to be breaking parts of the regulations. This would allow the press ombud to declare where, and how large a correction, apology, or right of reply should be.

For members that repeatedly ignore judgments, a hierarchy of punishments was suggested. The “most serious” sanctions would be fines, suspensions and expulsion from the PCSA, said Langa. He said it would work because, “I dont think any institution would exactly want to be suspended or excluded from this jurisdiction of the council”.

Hoosain Karjieker, president of Print Media South Africa, said the “implementations and recommendations [of the PFC report] will take place over the next few weeks” and budgets have already been “set aside”.

Mondli Makhanya, chairperson of the South African National Editors’ Forum, said the recommendations were a “radical departure” from the way print media had regulated itself in the past but that because journalists had “shortcomings”, there is a need for “strong accountability mechanisms”.

Dr Wilmot James, the DAs spokesperson of trade and industry, said his party “welcomes the report as it empowers democracy”.

Other recommendations include

  • Members of the public should be allowed into newsrooms to see what happens.
  • The controversial waiver should be scrapped.
  • Journalists need to be tested on their knowledge of the press code.
  • A discussion must begin with the Digital Media and Marketing Association on how to extend regulation to the digital sector
  • Hate speech is now included in the text of the code, not the preamble.
  • Children must be reported on holistically, not just as victims. All the loopholes for journalists to claim ignorance when working with the ethical issues of reporting on children have also been closed.
  • A public advocate can now initiate complaints, as well as third parties in line with section 38 of the Constitution.
  • The right of reply can only be ignored if the person is not available or unwilling to respond.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

Related stories

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

Renewables will light up the darkness

More than 11 800MW of new electricity capacity from independent power producers will come online in 2022, giving Eskom space to do more maintenance on its unreliable infrastructure

We cannot afford incremental action on climate change

The government has promised that we will get to net zero emissions by 2050, but is still taking actions that will make the climate crisis worse

Former iGas member accuses Gwede and CEF of interfering

Board members have quit the gas company, accusing the Central Energy Fund of poor governance, and the energy minister of overreach

Schools to close for a month due to Covid infection surge — Ramaphosa

The academic year will extend into 2021 in a ‘deliberately cautious approach’ as president confirms South Africa has world’s fifth-highest Covid-19 infection tally

What if Ramaphosa gets sick?

Senior South African politicians have not been spared the coronavirus. What happens if the head of state is not well enough to be at his desk?

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Why no vaccine at all is better than a botched...

As Covid vaccines near the manufacturing stage, a look at two polio vaccines provides valuable historical insights

Under cover of Covid, Uganda targets LGBTQ+ shelter

Pandemic rules were used to justify a violent raid on a homeless shelter in Uganda, but a group of victims is pursuing a criminal case against the perpetrators

JJ Rawlings left an indelible mark on Ghana’s history

The air force pilot and former president used extreme measures, including a coup, enforced ‘discipline’ through executions, ‘disappearances’ and floggings, but reintroduced democracy

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…