The SA Press Ombudsman’s office is to be beefed up with two additional staff, writes Andile Makholwa.

Joe Thloloe, the Ombudsman, says his office’s “budget has been increased by 70% for next year,” and will therefore be in a position to hire a deputy press ombudsman and a case officer.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is one of the critics who have claimed the ombudsman is partial towards the media and takes too long to reply to complaints.

In a recent panel discussion organised by the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) to commemorate October 19 1977 (Black Wednesday), ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte said the office of the Ombudsman was “toothless”. 

Duarte’s remarks were made in climate of anxiety in the media following the party’s watershed Polokwane conference which resolved to establish a media tribunal as an attempt to enforce media accountability.

A new set of laws including the controversial Films & Publications Amendment Bill have also kept SA editors awake at night to guard against the reversal of the country’s hard won press freedoms, resulting in Sanef asking President Kgalema Motlanthe not to sign the bill into law.   

However, Thloloe says the strengthening of his office is not motivated by what the ANC has been saying. Rather the amount of work in his desk requires additional hands to assist.

He says his office is faced with “a constant barrage of work that keeps coming up” resulting in huge backlog, and this has prompted the move to hire two more officials who are expected to assume their duties in February next year.

He says he is currently in discussions with the ANC regarding its complaints.

Currently, the Press Ombudsman only has a personal assistant and has to deal with “about 120 serious cases in a year”. In addition, there are several other minor complaints that have to be dealt with at an office level.

Thloloe says he is expecting more complaints in the coming year due to the upcoming general elections.