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Print Media SA – an association representing newspaper owners – vowed on Thursday that it would resist government attempts to ram through a print media charter aimed at transforming the industry.
Hoosain Karjieker, chairman of Print Media SA (PMSA), said on Thursday the association stood by its assertion that the industry should self-regulate through a print media transformation council.
“We will resist a statutory regulated charter which will lead us down a road of regulation that we do not want. We want to come up, as PMSA, with our own mechanism,” Karjieker said.
“We believe transformation must take place and are committed to it, but we want to operate in a self-regulated environment where our independence is guaranteed.”
PMSA’s stand followed a decision, earlier this week, by Parliament’s Communications portfolio committee to instruct the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) and its Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) to draw up a charter for print media.
In what the DA has slammed as a surprise announcement at the end of a day-long media indaba in Sandton on Monday, committee chairman Eric Kholwane said the two government entities should liaise with PMSA in drafting the charter.
The indaba, held under the theme “Transformation and Diversity of Print Media”, included input from a range of industry associations, lobby groups, small commercial and community media representatives, including the Association of Independent Publishers, the South African National Editors’ Forum, GCIS, the MDDA and the Independent Communications Authority of SA.
Only one of the big four newspaper groups – Avusa – has meaningful black ownership (50 percent), while News24 has 15 percent and Caxton and Independent have none.
At the indaba, PMSA, which is a voluntary association of print media publishers, presented its idea for a transformation council, saying a charter in the sector would be unworkable.
In his concluding statement, Kholwane said the media charter would, among other things, set deadlines and targets to meet transformation objectives.
Acknowledging the role of the government in driving the transformation programme of the sector, he said the charter would address the specifics of the industry, including setting deadlines and targets “in the entire value chain”, covering newsrooms, publishing, news sources, printing, distribution and advertising.
“These will include areas of ownership and control, language, race, gender, employment equity, conditions of employment, skills development, contributions to promoting media diversity, accord on access to printing and distribution, etc.”
In a statement following the indaba, DA communications spokeswoman Marian Shinn rejected what she termed the ANC’s attempt to bulldoze the charter through.
“The haste with which chairperson Kholwane pushed through this decision indicates that there may well be pressure from within the ANC to have this delivered in time for the ANC’s upcoming policy conference. This decision must be seen in the context of the resolutions taken at the ANC’s Polokwane conference, and the party’s consistent attempts to see the free media regulated,” Shinn said.
“The prepared statement that Mr Kholwane read at the close of a day of hearings from a diverse range of companies and organisations was a total surprise to the non-ANC members of the portfolio committee.
“The committee had not met to discuss the day's proceedings, nor had sight of Mr Kholwane's document, which was read to the gathering as a committee decision at the close of the hearings.”
Shinn said she would write to Kholwane to request that the “unilateral decision” be invalidated and that due process be followed.
“This decision appeared to have been made before the committee heard the PMSA's presentation, which included a considered explanation by its legal adviser on the unworkability of a charter in the sector,” she said.
Shinn said the committee had no authority to put any recommendations or decisions to a vote until these recommendations had been raised, discussed and tabled in Parliament.
“The DA is opposed to any attempt by government to regulate the media – print or otherwise. Self regulation, vigorous competition, and journalistic professionalism will ensure that the media accurately serve and reflect the diversity of South Africans and their issues and do not favour vested interests.”
Karjieker, who is also the CEO of the Mail & Guardian newspaper, said it was clear at Monday’s meeting that the committee was angling for a print media charter.
“We remain committed to putting together a transformation council whose role it will be to consult with role players in the industry and to seek submissions from the broader industry and relevant role players on the issue of transformation. The council will investigate and consider the imperatives of the business and value chain components and propose a transformation standard of achievement for adoption by the PMSA.”
Karjieker said he agreed that the council needed to be fast tracked.
“We want to get this process under way as soon as possible and it will be discussed at the PMSA board meeting next Tuesday. We want to provide a report, in three months time, on progress made by the council.”
Karjieker called on the committee to give the proposed council a “proper mandate” to come up with a way forward for the industry.