ANC comfortable with PFC recommendations

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INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

A banner denouncing the controversial Protection of State Information Bill hangs outside the St Mary's Cathedral opposite Parliament. Photo: Thomas Holber

The ANC is comfortable with the Press Freedom Commission (PFC)'s recommendations on the independent co-regulation of the press, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said on Wednesday.

“By and large, we are very comfortable,” he said at the handing over of the PFC's report on press regulation.

It had moved a long way in terms of what the ANC's expectations were in terms of protecting people's rights.

“It has taken everybody out of their comfort zone...,” said Mantashe.

He wanted the NEC to read and discuss the report, but his initial response was that it was “very acceptable”.

At its conference in Polokwane in 2007 the ANC decided that it would investigate setting up a media appeals tribunal because it was unhappy with the state of the media and its level of transformation.

SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) chairman Mondli Makhanya said that the media occasionally had shortcomings so (it) needed a strong mechanism for accountability.

He said it was a radical departure from the previous systems.

Editors accepted it and would discuss it to see what was expected of them.

A system of independent co-regulation between the public and press without state or government participation was recommended in the PFC report released in Joburg on Wednesday.

“From the extensive studies conducted, the PFC concludes that an independent co-regulatory mechanism – not including state participation – will best serve press freedom in the country,” the report said.

They recommended a system of people drawn mostly from various sections of the public outside the press industry to ensure independence.

This is in response to the public's dissatisfaction with the current system and the public's rejection of government involvement. An independent system would be accountable to the public.

The report follows a series of hearings earlier this year led by former chief justice Pius Langa and the receipt of over 230 submissions.

Major recommendations include that the number of public members be increased in the governing structure of the Press Council of SA and the Appeals Committee.

It is proposed that employees of the press not be eligible to sit in the adjudication committees. This would give the public more say.

The report recommends the physical separation of the Press Council of SA from premises shared with publishers and editors.

It seeks the scrapping of a waiver that complainants do not go to court, and recommends that a “public advocate” initiates cases in the public interest if no complaint is received.

Fines, suspension or even expulsion from the jurisdiction of the ombudsman were recommended.

“Space fines” – where the size of an apology is dictated – will be a form of monetary punishment as advertising revenue would be lost, and the right of reply would be fortified, said the report. – Sapa


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