Tuesday, July 20, 2010

South African Communist Party Backs Media Tribunal

SACP backs media tribunal


The South African Communist Party (SACP) on Monday reiterated its support for an independent media tribunal, as suggested by the African National Congress (ANC), saying the press ombudsman was inadequate and made up of media practitioners who judge themselves.

"It has been our view over the last few years that while media freedom is one of the cornerstones of our democracy, and must be protected and defended, self-regulation by the media ... is hopelessly inadequate," said a statement from spokesperson Malesela Maleka.

The party also disagreed with the ombudsman's rule that if someone decides to have their complaint taken up by the ombudsman, they must agree not to follow this with court action.

The SACP said the media plays an important role in informing the public, so it was "absolutely essential" that an independent body be set up for the speedy processing of complaints.

"The press ombud is inadequate. It is a body appointed by the media and made up of people from within the ranks of the media to judge itself."

However, press ombudsman Joe Thloloe said the ombudsman's system of regulation was in line with the Constitution, which grants everyone the right to freedom of expression.

'The only thing that any publication has to sell is its credibility'
The print media set up the system with the intention of promoting journalistic excellence.

When a complaint is lodged with the ombudsman, it is made clear from the outset that if the ombudsman is to proceed with the complaint, the parties cannot institute legal action at a later stage. This is to prevent parties using the ombudsman as a place where possible defences can be teased out for later court action.

There are no fines or threats of licences being removed as a result of a complaint to the ombudsman, so if complainants are aiming for something more punitive, like a damages payment, then the courts should be approached.

"The only thing that any publication has to sell is its credibility, so every self-respecting editor has to ensure that it has its facts right," he said, explaining the reasoning behind the ombudsman's decision not to fine publications.

Thloloe pointed out that ANC figures like Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and the ANC Youth League had made use of the ombudsman.

He estimated that their findings go "50/50" for or against newspapers and complainants.

The proposed media tribunal has gone on and off the boil for the ANC over the last few years, with the ruling party's policy conference resolving that the establishment of a tribunal be investigated.

A recent publication by the Mail & Guardian of a painting by Yiull Damaso depicting a dead former president Nelson Mandela brought the matter to the fore again.

The ANC's spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, issued a statement saying this represented witchcraft and racism and proved that the tribunal, which would be established by Parliament, was necessary. -- Sapa

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
Web Address: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-07-19-sacp-backs-media-tribunal

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