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Media Freedom News South Africa

What's so special about the Press Freedom Commission?

A new star, the Press Freedom Commission (PFC), has appeared in the emotionally charged galaxy of the South African print media, where ethics are sometimes flouted in the name of freedom of expression and critical journalists are held at gunpoint by a ruling party that believes that self-regulation is 'toothless' and not working.
What's so special about the Press Freedom Commission?

"This body promises to be an important addition to the media landscape, and its establishment is most welcome," Rhodes University media professor Jane Duncan told yesterday, Sunday, 10 July 2011.

Initiative of PMSA, SANEF

The newly launched PFC is an initiative of Print Media South Africa (PMSA) and the South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF), and will be chaired by Justice Pius Langa.

Duncan lauded PMSA for 'doing something' about the pending threat to media freedom, instead of continuing to lurk in the shadows while SANEF slugs it out with the ANC.

But will the PFC's performance appease the ruling ANC, which firmly believes that the creation of a media appeals tribunal (MAT) is the only way to discipline what the party calls wayward newspapers for publishing 'half-truths'.

Other PFC commissioners include Archbishop Thabo Makgoba (faith-based), Futhi Mtoba (business), Derick Elbrecht (labour), Santie Botha (business marketing), Prof Kobus van Rooyen (law), Dr Phil Mthimkulu (academia), Adv Anshal Bodasing (law) and Prof Kwame Karikari (international, Ghana).

Review best practice locally, globally

The organisation is due to, among others, review the best practice locally and globally regarding the regulation of print media.

Duncan said: "By bringing together the insights of a range of sectors in society, the commission should provide insights into how to address any problems that may exist with the current system of self-regulation, and hopefully strengthening it in the process."

While the ANC welcomed the PFC launch, it said, however, it was 'sticking to its guns' in urging Parliament to investigate the creation of a MAT in SA, The Citizen newspaper reported on Friday 8 July.

Duncan said the commission should generate research that should inform the national debate on the existing system, and some of this work may even be available in time for the pending parliamentary hearing into the desirability of a MAT.

'Learn lessons from News of the World scandal'

"I assume that they will be looking at international best practice and learn the lessons that need to be learnt from the recent News of the World scandal, and the failure of the Press Complaints Council to address the decline in ethical standards at the paper."

British tabloid News of the World (NoW; #NOTW) has closed down after publishing its last edition, Thank you & goodbye, yesterday, Sunday 10 July, amid allegations of a phone-hacking scandal - an incident that has shaken Britain's political, social and media establishment.

However, despite the commission's 'special status', Duncan deplored the absence of the voice of the working journalist in the newly created body, stressing that if the system of self-regulation is to be strengthened, then the voice of the rank and file working journalist needs to be stronger, and should not be further marginalised.

"The problem in SA is that journalists are not well-organised, which means that we don't really have self-regulation, strictly speaking. Working journalists are poorly represented in the Press Council, and owners and editors' organisations dominate the landscape. This is not healthy," she lamented.

"Journalism is not rocket science"

"Journalism is not rocket science; it does involve some level of skills in editorial decision-making, which journalists have and others don't have. Not even lawyers can make these decisions, as the domains of law and ethics differ. That is why you want the balance of power in a Press Council to be held by journalists."

What's so special about the Press Freedom Commission?
What's so special about the Press Freedom Commission?

For more:

For More list updated at 2.41pm on 11 July 2011.

About Issa Sikiti da Silva: @sikitimedia

Issa Sikiti da Silva is a winner of the 2010 SADC Media Awards (print category). He freelances for various media outlets, local and foreign, and has travelled extensively across Africa. His work has been published both in French and English. He used to contribute to as a senior news writer.

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