Dr Iqbal Surve: It’s time to challenge self-appointed custodians of media freedom and ethics
Cape Town - In 2016, Independent Media made a considered decision to withdraw from the Press Council of South Africa (PCSA).
Our decision was a collective one and was not made at a whim or to undermine press freedom, freedom of expression or refusing to be held accountable for our actions.
Independent Media’s withdrawal from the PCSA was a consequence of an impasse over the reintroduction of a waiver clause. We were of the view that the removal of the waiver by the Press Council had the unintended consequences of involving Independent Media and other media houses in potentially excessive costly litigation.
Our view has not changed.
At the time of our withdrawal from the PCSA and the launch of our own internal Ombudsman’s Office, I said that Independent Media remained totally committed to the self-regulation of the media and was vehemently opposed to any form of state regulation.
The unveiling of our enhanced Ombudsman structures this week is further testimony that we are walking the talk.
The appointment of seasoned editor Yogas Nair as our new Ombudsman, in tandem with a new Press Council, Adjudication and Appeals panels comprising eminent media, legal and community leaders, most certainly raises the bar with regard to accountability. To further entrench accountability and transparency, detailed information regarding the work of the Ombud’s office, complaints procedures, rulings and other critical information can now be accessed at https://www.independentmediaombud.co.za.
Following her appointment, Nair said: “I believe that to make self-regulation credible, the media must step up and commit themselves to systems of good governance, transparency and a greater willingness to admit their mistakes. For self-regulation to command public trust, newspapers must be held accountable to their own editorial and ethical standards and to provide readers with an independent assessment of their observations.”
Nair’s statement reaffirms Independent Media’s unrelenting commitment to upholding the highest journalistic standards and ethics. In this regard, there is no compromise.
Since its withdrawal from the PCSA, Independent Media has been subjected to a relentless misinformation campaign premised on the scurrilous assertion that we have gone “rogue”.
For far too long, organisations like the PCSA and the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) have created the perception that they are the sole custodians of media credibility, accountability, media freedom and freedom of expression. Those who challenge the narrative are subjected to intense vilification and slander.
It is high time the detractors come clean on the real motives behind their sustained attacks and begs the question about why they are so determined to disrupt or destroy our business.
Besides myself, Independent Media’s group of committed editors and journalists have borne the brunt of the vilification and slander.
Notwithstanding the attacks, we remain undeterred in our strategic journey to transform the country’s media landscape.
A recent statement by our editors in response to the ongoing attacks encapsulates the collective resolve and determination to take a stand against this vilification and slander.
The statement reads: “Sanef is a non-government organisation and a non-regulatory body that has positioned itself as representative of the media in this country. It does not, however, represent all the media in this country.
“We believe that Sanef's statement supports an ongoing, relentless campaign by our critics and competitors, to smear and discredit Independent Media journalists, editors, and the organisation as a whole. Sanef’s actions are therefore unprincipled.”
It is also important to note that the statement and the one announcing our revamped Ombud processes have been ignored by Sanef, the PCSA and rival media houses. So much for telling both sides of the story.
Our commitment to media freedom, freedom of expression and accountability is non-negotiable. We most certainly do not need the permission or validation of the PCSA, Sanef and slew of praise singers to conduct our work without fear or favour.
We are also acutely aware that the co-ordinated attacks waged by our detractors is to distract us from executing our transformation agenda.
Since the acquisition of Independent Media by the Sekunjalo Group in 2013, enormous strides have been made to transform the country’s largest English language media group at all levels.
This transformation journey has not been an easy one and is unfinished business. Notwithstanding the relentless noise drummed up by our detractors, we are determined to complete this journey.
Our commercial partners, advertisers, readers and millions of ordinary South Africans can rest assured that Independent Media will continue to conduct its business in an ethical and accountable manner.
The preamble to our Press Code says: “Independent Media wants news to be reported accurately, the publication of opinions that are based on fact and honestly motivated and reportage that recognises the vulnerable of society and that upholds the laws of South Africa and the Constitution.”
This is a non-negotiable and solemn contract with all stakeholders. No amount of vilification and slander will deter us from playing our role in ensuring that our democracy succeeds.
On May 3 this year, the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press will be observed. The landmark moment provides us with an ideal opportunity to undertake a deep introspection on the state of the media.
Bridging the media divide will require a frank and honest conversation between all role-players rather than a knee-jerk, reactive response as envisaged by the upcoming Sanef conference on media ethics and credibility.
Lessons from the Truth and Reconciliation process has taught us that papering over the cracks causes more harm than good. The same could be said of the deep divide in our media sector where fundamental transformation cannot continue to be sacrificed on altar of expediency and opportunism.
* Click here to contact the office of the Internal Ombudsman.