The report of the Press Freedom Commission on media regulation was “cleverly worded”, a media expert said on Friday.
University of SA (Unisa) academic Julie Reid said the commission's report, which recommended “independent co-regulation”, was similar to the existing media regulation in South Africa.
“The report is a cleverly worded document, selling a system which is not remarkably different from the past,” she said.
South Africa's press was not governed by self-regulation in a strict sense, but by co-regulation, with public representatives on the Press Council, she said.
“Media people are natural critics. We like to grumble, we like to complain,” she said.
In practical terms, not much would change, she said at a debate on press freedom hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand's journalism department.
Also speaking during the debate, Joe Latakgomo, public editor of the Sunday Times, said the government would always seek to control media.
The press freedom commission was a compromise solution, he said.
Audience member Glenda Daniels said: “It worries me that the ANC liked it 1/8the report 3/8 so much.”
The Citizen's editor Martin Williams agreed.
“I am concerned that the ANC was satisfied with the report. We should ask why they were so happy,” he said.
Academic Franz Kruger said the perceptions of media corruption which had prompted the commission were the result of a “political battle”.
There had been a “sustained attempt to portray the media in a bad light,” he said.
Latakgomo agreed. “It is not bad stories, but good stories that are getting us into trouble with government,” he said.
Editor-in-Chief of Avusa Media newspapers Mondli Makhanya said moves to control the South African press sent a “terrible signal”.
“If this happens in SA, it gives legitimacy to authoritarian governments elsewhere,” he said.
The hostility towards the media was the mark of an ANC under siege, he said.
Although the report was not perfect, it had been necessary.
“A system of regulation must be seen to be credible,” he said. Attacks on the press had left their mark, prompting the commission.
William Bird, of Media Monitoring Africa, said the process of drawing up the report had been particularly comprehensive.
He was pleased with the greater sensitivity awarded to children under the new Press Code.
Children were given extra protection in South African law and greater sensitivity and skill was required to report on them.
The Code laid out under what circumstances children could be identified.
He said great harm had been done by the Daily Sun publishing a photograph of a teenage rape survivor.
Ben Viljoen, from the Daily Sun, said the newspaper had had great success in locating missing people. This had prompted its decision to publish the girl's photo.
Bird said the image had been demeaning to the girl, with details of her previous rapes alongside the image and graphic information about her situation.
“That girl will not be able to live in her community,” he said. “She is in a place of care.”
Viljoen said there had been no outcry about a Daily Sun report on a 14-year-old boy who had forced four-year-old children to have sex with him.
The picture of the girl, whose gang rape was filmed on a cellphone, had made an impact worldwide, he said.
“The reason why the story made a splash is because of the treatment we gave it,” he said. - Sapa