Posted by: africanpressorganization | 26 March 2009

South Africa / Ruling party revives debate on statutory media tribunal, says voluntary regulation is not working



South Africa / Ruling party revives debate on statutory media tribunal, says voluntary regulation is not working  


PRETORIA, South Africa, March 26, 2009/African Press Organization (APO)/ — South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) says its view on establishing a media tribunal is “shifting”. The party says that the South African media is historically hostile towards it, online news agency, News24 reported on 23 March. News24 quotes ANC’s spokesperson Jessie Duarte saying the media tribunal proposal is therefore under review.  

“The freedom of the press is an important platform for the ANC and even though there have been discussions in the ANC about a tribunal… it’s not a decision,” she said.

Duarte explained that a media tribunal was “a place where the media itself has to give account for some of the incorrect things that they say about individuals”.

“We believe that [a media tribunal] is not correct, that it is actually not a time and place for tribunals,” Duarte said at a discussion of political party media strategies in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.

The ruling party, however, viewed media coverage of the ANC as “hostile”, saying this “temperament” has prevailed since the 1960s.

“Historically… if one looks at the architecture of South African media, media is owned by groups of companies and some of the media is owned by multinationals and although there is an argument that could be put that the Chinese wall between editorial and ownership is solid.

“However, right from the early ’60s the same temperament toward the ANC has pertained that exists in the media. A temperament [that is] highly critical, exceptionally hostile in terms of the calibre of leadership of the ANC,” she said.

The proposal for a media tribunal was solidified at the party’s elective conference in Polokwane in 2007.  According to Duarte, the ruling party’s view was now “shifting” and the current view was that the press ombudsman was weak and needed to be strengthened.

“We think the ombudsperson’s office is pretty weak, we think that it does need to be a little bit more professional, more solid in its approach to dealing with facts and issues,” she said.

This was an “open discussion” in the ANC and Duarte stressed that there was no need to fear it as its aim was to improve the “solidness of the freedom of the press”.

“We recognise there’s hostility, we are not fighting you. We are saying we want to move that [hostility] to critical? but substantive criticism.

“We would like to have fair comment space and the question of comment being substituted for hard news is a real issue with us,” she said.

Democratic Alliance chief executive, Ryan Coetzee, also participating in the debate, said his party did not view the media as a “coherent entity” with a particular agenda. He recognised that journalists and media organisations were diverse but his party also took issue with media who blurred the line between hard news and opinion.

“We don’t view the media as a coherent entity that has some kind of agenda or some kind of strategy; it’s a very diverse thing.

“For us it’s separating the hard news from the opinion… that is something that annoys me.”

Head of communication for the Congress of the People, JJ Tabane, said his fledgling party had trouble navigating the media environment the way established parties did.


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