South Africa: Self-regulation proposals triumph over mooted statutory control of newspapers

A report released by the Press Freedom Commission on Wednesday, 25 April 2012, has given the strongest indication yet that self-regulation of the print media in South Africa is more desirable than statutory control of them.

The South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and Print Media South Africa (PMSA) mandated the Press Freedom Commission to independently carry out research and come up with recommendations on the ideal regulatory framework for print media in South Africa. This was done in response to the ruling African National Congress’ (ANC) proposed Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT), which sought to establish a framework for political oversight of the media.

The Commission was headed by former South Africa Chief Justice, Pius Langa and reportedly considered at least two-hundred (200) submissions in addition to carrying out public hearings and visiting various countries.

According to the information at hand, the report has “recommended a new regulatory regime for newspapers involving more public participation and a hierarchy of increasingly stringent penalties for "journalistic infractions" culminating in space-related and monetary fines.”

Although the report is still to be reviewed by the party’s National Executive Council, the ANC has said it is “ very comfortable” with these proposals and both SANEF and PMSA are expected to accept most, if not all, of them.

An editorial, which appeared in the Mail & Guardian, one of South Africa’s leading weekly newspapers may fully capture how the print media feel about self-regulation and how they view themselves in the post-apartheid era.

Wrote the Mail & Guardian: “It is important to be clear that newspapers are under no absolute ¬obligation to submit to external ethical regulation. Our work is governed by the Constitution, which specifically carves out a place for "freedom of the media" within the broader right to freedom of speech. It is subject to the common law, including the law of defamation, and to statutory ¬limitations that range from the classification of state secrets to the protection of children.”

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) encourages all stakeholders in this process to carefully consider the recommendations and come up with a regulatory framework that will advance South African journalism and not undermine it, fostering unquestionable public confidence and maintaining credibility.

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