Last Monday the Press Freedom Commission's public-hearings roadshow moved to Durban, where it listened to the IFP's proposal that the Press Council be transformed into a “super body”. Such an institution would receive input from, among others, the government, and be a form of co-regulation, rather than the self-regulation that is the status quo. By MARICLAIR SMIT.
The Listening to SA Campaign, launched by the Press Freedom Commission, continued its public hearings at the Pavilion Hotel in Durban on Monday 23 January. The campaign aims at providing the public with an opportunity to assist the PFC in the process of recommending improvements to current media-regulatory system. Despite the fact that all South African citizens were invited to participate, only a handful of individuals attended, with even fewer submitting their concerns. The poor attendance rate was reminiscent of the Press Council's public hearings held in 2011, despite the PFC's efforts to create greater awareness of its own hearings.
The few points that were raised, however, emphasised not only a fear of the potential loss of press freedom, but also concerns regarding the shortcomings of the South African media’s reporting and its self-regulation.
The IFP deputy national spokesman Joshua Mazibuko was first to address the PFC. Mazibuko said there were shortcomings in the current self-regulatory system of the South African media, and used several “unbalanced” and “inaccurate” media articles that focused on the IFP to illustrate his argument. According to Mazibuko, the IFP feels that the “current form of self-regulation protects the fraternity” of the media.
Despite his position, Mazibuko also argued that the media, freedom of the press and self-regulation is vital for democracy. “In the past 20 years the media has played a pivotal role. It has been more effective in relentlessly exposing corruption and other scandals. It has given a voice to the voiceless and portrayed the full range of aspects of our diverse society. It has discussed issues of public interest and has been active in advocating all viewpoints. In summary it has done what the media is supposed to do,” he said.
As a solution to the shortcomings, Mazibuko suggested that the revised press code could be further improved by establishing a clearer definition of accuracy, privacy, harassment and discrimination. He said it should also offer clearer context for issues such as opportunity for reply, intrusion of shock or grief, protection of children, entry into hospitals, reporting of crime, protection of victims of crime and confidential sources, financial journalism, payment for information and payment of criminals.
Additionally, Mazibuko proposed that co-regulation measures that are open and transparent be implemented alongside the current self-regulation system in order to ensure accurate, balanced and fair reporting. The co-regulation measurements would not jeopardise press freedom, he asserted, as the press ombudsman would be “transformed into a super body” assisted by the government, advertising boards, civil society groups, political parties, academics and citizens.
Earlier in his submission, Mazibuko had also pointed out certain limitations of the press ombudsman, for example, that the ombudsman acts only on a limited number of complaints, and that the ombudsman could request only that the offending publication publish an apology (rather than issue a fine).
Desmond D’sa, a member of the Right2Know campaign and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, was up next, and submitted his concerns focusing on the so-called secrecy bill. According to D’sa “narrow journalism would destroy democracy and freedom”, as the absence of press freedom would result in one-sided articles. Journalists, activists and members of the public would be killed or prosecuted for conducting or advocating balanced reporting, he said. Therefore, without press freedom and access to information, “we will find ourselves back in the era of apartheid”, D’sa said.
D’sa and eThekwini Municipality DA councillor Jayanathan Soobramany also expressed concerns about the difficulty in accessing information about the press ombudsman, and proposed that contact details and the role of the ombudsman should be made more easily available to the public. “Some people do not know what they stand for,” Soobramany said.
Julia Zingu, the executive director of the Children’s Right Centre, advocated children’s rights to freedom of expression and access to information. “Children have the right of freedom of expression and this right includes freedom of speech,” said Zingu. She argued that the freedom of expression and a free flow of information empower children “to be safe and to understand their world”. Zingu also emphasised the fact that the views, perspectives and comments of children are rarely included in publications.
Hailey Fudu, an educator, submitted her concerns regarding sensationalism and violent and/or gruesome reporting. Fudu believes that the images and articles published by the media impose on her (and her family’s) right to freedom from violence. She further argued that these images are not necessarily providing the public with vital information and only promote reporting that focuses on “entertainment value”. To end her submission Fudu proposed that the PFC examine the current laws and regulations regarding such images and impose penalties against their publication, as well as enforce a balance between the “negative” and “uplifting” reporting.
The PFC will conclude its Listening to SA Campaign with hearings on 30 January to 1 February 2012 at the Braamfontein Recreation Centre in Johannesburg. And, despite the low turnout in Durban, expectations are high for the Joburg hearings, with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe expected to deliver his party's submission in person. FAM
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Photo: PFC Commissioners Kwame Karikari, Anshal Bodasing and Kobus van Rooyen. By Mariclair Smit.