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JOHANNESBURG — Regardless of anything the media may do to get its own house in order, the ANC still wants a media tribunal to which the print media must be accountable.
On the second day of the Press Freedom Commission’s public hearings in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, the ANC delegation, led by secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, made it very clear that it has in no way abandoned its plans to establish a media tribunal.
This despite Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s assurance a year ago that the ANC will abandon its intention to establish a media tribunal if the South African Press Council were to review the Press Ombudsman system adequately.
But ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said even if the media improves its self-regulatory system that will not be enough.
According to the ANC’s submission South Africa’s present media regulatory system is inefficient.
The ANC believes the answer lies in an “independent regulator” with enough teeth to apply “appropriate” sanctions against offending publications.
The ANC wants the proposed media tribunal’s structure and composition to be determined by Parliament, and the tribunal must also report to Parliament.
About 65% of all MPs are members of the ANC.
“If you’re talking about parliamentary oversight, then we can no longer talk about ‘independent media’,” panel chairperson former Chief Justice Pius Langa pointed out.
The ANC passed a resolution as far back as 2007 at Polokwane to introduce a mechanism to regulate the print media.
At the ANC’s national general council meeting in Durban in 2010, it renewed its commitment to that resolution.
There was no suggestion at all yesterday that the ANC intends ditching its plans for a media tribunal.
In its submission, the ANC accuses the media of sloppy journalism, low standards and inaccurate, unfair and irresponsible reporting.
The Press Ombudsman and the Press Council are prejudiced and have no teeth, and a “one size fits all” approach is used when sanctions are applied against the print media, regardless of the seriousness of the offence. He said that even if a publication makes total nonsense of the press code, its penalty is still only to print an apology, Mthembu said.
While the ANC has said it is not seeking a statutory regulatory system, critics are sceptical about the “independence” of such a media tribunal.
National DA spokesperson Mmusi Maimane said the ANC’s proposed “independent” regulatory system is merely a cover for a statutory system.
“Any institution which is established by the state, is dependent on the state for funding, consists of deployed cadres and is accountable to politicians cannot be independent.”
He said the DA will very strongly oppose the proposal.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa also made a submission to the commission and said he does agree with the ANC’s proposed media tribunal.
He said while there are many problems with the media one has to be very careful with this “press freedom exercise”.
“We simply cannot support any attempts to suppress the media.”