ANC mulls idea of media tribunal
The African National Congress (ANC) wants to consider setting up a media tribunal to discuss how participation of the public is juxtaposed with current self-regulation in the media.
“It’s not a policy position, we just want to set up a task team to investigate this,” ANC information head Smuts Ngonyama said on Wednesday.
He was taking part in a public colloquium at Wits University in Johannesburg, which hosted a debate on the ANC discussion document on the media.
Quoting from the discussion document, he said the reality was that the media were a major arena in the battle of ideas.
He said conjecture was the bread and butter of some prominent titles in the South African media environment and this highlighted the challenge of affirming principles of even-handedness, fair comment and independence.
The ability to distinguish between conjecture and facts appeared to be beyond the grasp of some media organisations and practitioners.
“People drawn as beetroots, or with showers grafted on to their heads, are increasingly depicted in the same way in the parts of newspapers one expects to find facts and analysis,” Ngonyama said.
“Caricature now seems an acceptable, even expected, type of news reporting.”
The discussion document includes a proposal to investigate self-regulation in the media, and whether remedial measures may be required to safeguard and promote the rights of all South Africans.
The document also calls on the government to increase its funding of the public broadcaster as the current model compromises its public-service mandate.
Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri said that the public broadcaster had an important role in a country where almost nine million people were functionally illiterate.
However, funding was a hotly contested area in the government, with each department vying for its share.
The document also says that the media should foster and develop social cohesion and promote the building of consensus on a common set of values, as well as support national unity and pride as a South African nation.
The ANC’s Saki Macozoma, who deals with media policy for the party, said he was concerned about the “us and them” mood between the ANC and the media.
“We must be able to tell someone ‘your idea is lunatic’, but we must not succumb to the situation where we say these kind of views must not be expressed. This kind of view must be expressed.”
Ismael Vadi, head of parliament’s portfolio committee on communications and the ANC’s communications committee, said that outlining a code of best practice for the media could be mutually beneficial.
The key question was who would regulate it.
He called for public engagement on a code of conduct for journalists.
Govt supports freedom of media
Meanwhile, press freedom was thriving in South Africa and the country received international recognition for its support for the principle, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told Parliament on Wednesday.
She was replying to a question by Pieter Mulder from the Freedom Front Plus, who asked whether the principle of freedom of the press and other media was being applied consistently.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said the question seemed to be suggesting that there was some sort of crisis regarding press freedom. She said the government was committed to freedom of expression, which was enshrined in the Constitution.
Only the courts had the authority to interfere with the application of the principle.
“The government fully supports freedom of the media and accepts that it is one of the cornerstones of our democracy,” she said.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said South Africa was internationally recognised as one of the leading countries in the upholding of freedom of the media.
“So I don’t know where this is coming from,” she said.
Mulder said he welcomed the commitment to press freedom given by the deputy president and said it was important that it was placed on the record again.
He said this was necessary because South Africa was viewed through critical eyes from the Western media because it was an African country.
He said all steps had to be taken to avoid negative perceptions being formed.
He quoted as an example the rumours that surrounded the pending arrest of the editor of the Sunday Times, Mondli Makhanya, and one of his staff members.
He said the rumour had reinforced the perception that South Africa was becoming like Zimbabwe.
Mulder said threats to withdraw government advertisements in newspapers that were critical of it had the same effect.
Mlambo-Ngcuka replied that what Mulder was talking about was rumours.
“We are not rumour-mongers, we are honourable members here,” she said.
“If there are editors who wish to publish rumours as story, it is shocking,” she said.
“Whose freedom is being eroded, is it the freedom of the media or our freedom. Be the judge,” she said.
Regarding the withdrawal of advertisements, she said the government had the right to publish advertisements wherever it deemed best.
She said she did not agree that it qualified as a threat against newspapers.—Sapa