The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) is disappointed by the decision of Independent Media to withdraw from the activities of the Press Council of South Africa.
This includes the jurisdiction of the Press Ombudsman to adjudicate complaints levelled against media houses that contravene the Press Code.
Independent has now appointed its own internal Press Ombudsman and so-called Media Press Appeal Tribunal to receive and adjudicate complaints from the public about editorial content published in one of the group’s titles, including The Star, The Sunday Independent, The Cape Argus, Pretoria News and Isolezwe.
The reconstituted Press Council and Press Code is the result of years or research, consultation and negotiations between the country’s media houses and role players, including civil society, political organisations and academia including through the Press Freedom Commission headed by the late Chief Justice Pius Langa. The findings of the PFC informed an overhaul of the Press Council, including the scrapping of a waiver that required complainants to give up their rights to institute private litigation against media houses. Independent Media and its management were part and parcel of these discussions and decisions.
Independent Media now blames “loopholes” in the Press Code for its dramatic decision to cut all ties with the Press Council. It is disappointing that Independent sought to make this radical decision unilaterally while discussions with the Press Council were still ongoing. We note that this decision means that all publications of the company, both print and digital, will now fall outside the exemptions of pre publication approvals by the Film and Publications Board (FPB) enjoyed by members of the Press Council.
Sanef confirms our commitment to the current system of independent co-regulation by the Press Council, which has four retired judges in its various structures and a panel that includes more representatives from the public than from the media. We note reports by the Press Council on its rulings (which are mostly made in favour of complainants) and take very seriously the findings of the Press Ombudsman or appeals panel about mistakes made by journalists in the exercise of their duties.
Sanef further notes Independent Media’s declared commitment to self-regulation and stated opposition to the introduction of a statutory Media Appeals Tribunal. However, we believe that self-regulation should be executed at arm’s length by an independent regulatory mechanism like the Press Council and not by employees of media companies. To use an internal ombudsman as a replacement of independent arbiters is unacceptable and we call on Independent media to rescind the decision.
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