SA editors and publishers have set up a commission to investigate
changes to the press code and the office of the press ombudsman, writes
Bate Felix.

This comes ahead of the imminent retirement of the current ombudsman, former Sapa editor Ed Linington.

The committee will be chaired by veteran journalist Raymond Louw, who
is the SA chairperson of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, and
will include representatives from publishers and editors.

The investigation comes after the furore around the films and
publications bill that was seen as seeking to impose censorship on the
news.  The bill has been withdrawn for further consultations, but in
the earlier discussions some groups suggested government concerns
around child porn could be dealt with in the press code.

“It is not a restructuring by any means,” Louw told,
“it is just a way to improve some of the guidelines of the code,
especially those addressing the issue of child pornography that the
bill seeks to address.”

Even though this has never been an issue with South African newspapers,
said Louw, “it is just a measure to make newspaper men more sensitive
to the issues typically around child pornography.”

The committee will also look at the possibility of making the office of the press ombudsman more visible.

“For a long time it has been felt that the work of the press ombudsman
hasn’t been sufficiently publicised and that there should be a way to
publicise its activities in a broader manner,” said Louw.

To achieve this, there are suggestions that newspapers publicise the
office by prominently publishing rulings and also carry an announcement
drawing attention to the ombudsman’s office.

The committee has not been yet able to meet as yet, but Louw said, “it
is desirable that by the time a new press ombudsman takes over, the
reforms would be in place so that he starts on a clean slate”.

Linington is retiring in July 2007 when his contract ends. He has been
in office since 1997. He said reforms are necessary to strengthen the
office and align it with the current changes in society.

He added that despite the fact that the office has gotten a lot busier
over the past years, and has had great success in resolving 95 percent
of cases referred to it, it still faces a major problem of low public