The office of the Press Ombudsman should be separated from the Press Council, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said on Wednesday.

“The Press Council promotes the interest of its members, while the ombudsman works independently, like the Public Protector, and protects the interests of the public,” she said in a presentation to the Press Freedom Commission's public hearings in Joburg.

“An ombudsman institution that functions with utmost integrity is what will work. We believe that the press ombudsman should be the key oversight (in media regulation), but it should be beefed up,” she said.

“The Press Ombudsman should have his or her own identity that is separate from the Press Council.”

Madonsela said the Public Protector was regarded globally as an ombudsman.

“His or her function... is to reinforce the checks and balances that seek to expose excesses in the exercise of state power. Free flow of information is essential for the functioning of the integrity system... to this extent institutions such as the Public Protector rely extensively on media and whistleblowers to report incidents of corruption.”

Madonsela said the Press Council should impose fines.

“We propose a revision to the Press Code, to implement more effective sanctions... there is a need to move beyond an apology.

“We don't want to leave apologies out, because they are great form of sanctions, but financial redress should be considered.”

Madonsela came out in support of self-regulation for the media, but acknowledged the system had flaws.

“Many claim that the watchdogs are barking at the wrong things... The media hunt for scandal in the private lives of politicians and their families,” she said.

“They go after wounded politicians like sharks in a feeding frenzy.” – Sapa