Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is deeply concerned by the decision taken by The New Age to withdraw from the Press Council of South Africa. This is not only disappointing but might pose a serious threat to the self-regulatory mechanisms in South Africa. MMA believes that self-regulation/co-regulation of the media is the best way of maintaining free and independent media in a fledging democracy like ours.
It is a known secret that the Press Council over the years has faced a lot of criticism especially by those that favour state regulation over self regulation. Despite this critique, the Press Council carried out and extensive overhaul of its structure and processes and has improved the manner in which it handles complaints. It has since then proven on numerous occasions that the system works to ensure cheap, speedy and fair findings on the media and in so doing helps hold media accountable to its audiences.
MMA is aware of the two differing versions regarding the decision by The New Age to withdraw from the Press Council. On the one hand, the Democratic Alliance (DA) argues that the reason for the withdrawal is because The New Age is “refusing to be held accountable for ethical and accurate reporting. Meanwhile, we have also been informed that The New Age is pulling out of the Press Council because it is will soon be expected to contribute annually to the Press Council operational costs, as existing members of the Print and Digital Media South Africa (PDMSA) currently do.
While the New Age may seek to appoint its own Ombud to help deal with cases, that person will unless completely independent of the New Age structure be subject to allegations of bias. Media Like the M&G have their own Ombud but in serious cases they still subject themselves to the broader scrutiny of the Press Council. This is not to suggest that an Independent Ombud may actually be biased, but rather that the perception of bias will always be hard to dispel.
It is essential therefore that, The New Age, and all other publications, fully appreciate the role the Press Council plays in a highly contested democratic space. The Press Council is the only body currently in South Africa that is entrusted with promoting good standards of media practice, through easy and cost effective means of handling complaints by ordinary citizens and the powerful alike.
Without this body, print and digital media should be prepared to either be regulated by the State or face costly and very long court battles with complainants – all of which have negative implications on their independence, the bottom-line and their credibility. These will also likely lead to the concerns of ordinary citizens being marginalised or drowned out by the powerful media houses. The Press Council may not be perfect but it does offer a far more level playing field where the powerful can be held to account for their content.
MMA therefore calls on both The New Age and the Press Council to discuss this matter. It is also imperative that dispute within the PDMSA are addressed such that a major media play like the New Age feels its interest cannot be fairly addressed in the body. We also urge The New Age to reconsider its withdrawal for the benefit of a self-regulatory system that has worked to guarantee a free, independent and accountable media.
For more information contact:
Carol Mohlala (Researcher)
William Bird (Director)