Section 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa enshrines the right to freedom of expression as follows:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes:
(a) Freedom of the press and other media;
(b) Freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
(c) Freedom of artistic creativity; and
(d) Academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
(2) The right in subsection (1) does not extend to
(a) Propaganda for war;
(b) Incitement of imminent violence; or
(c) Advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion,
and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
The basic principle to be upheld is that the freedom of the press is indivisible from and subject to the same rights and duties as that of the individual and rests on the public’s fundamental right to be informed and freely to receive and to disseminate opinions; and
The primary purpose of gathering and distributing news and opinion is to serve society by informing citizens and enabling them to make informed judgments on the issues of the time; and
The freedom of the press allows for an independent scrutiny to bear on the forces that shape society.
The Press Council of South Africa accepts the following Code which will guide the South African Press Ombudsman and the South African Press Appeals Panel to reach decisions on complaints from the public after publication of the relevant material.
Furthermore, the Press Council of South Africa is hereby constituted as a self-regulatory mechanism to provide impartial, expeditious and cost-effective arbitration to settle complaints based on and arising from this Code.
For purposes of this Code, “child pornography” shall mean: “Any image or any description of a person, real or simulated, who is or who is depicted or described as being, under the age of 18 years, engaged in sexual conduct; participating in or assisting another person to participate in sexual conduct; or showing or describing the body or parts of the body of the person in a manner or circumstances which, in context, amounts to sexual exploitation, or in a manner capable of being used for purposes of sexual exploitation.”
1. Reporting of News
1.1 The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.
1.2 News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by:
1.2.1 Distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation;
1.2.2 Material omissions; or
1.3 Only what may reasonably be true, having regard to the sources of the news, may be presented as fact, and such facts shall be published fairly with due regard to context and importance. Where a report is not based on facts or is founded on opinions, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly.
1.4 Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be mentioned in such report.
1.5 A publication should usually seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication; provided that this need not be done where the publication has reasonable grounds for believing that by doing so it would be prevented from publishing the report or where evidence might be destroyed or witnesses intimidated.
1.6 A publication should make amends for publishing information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by printing, promptly and with appropriate prominence, a retraction, correction or explanation.
1.7 Reports, photographs or sketches relative to matters involving indecency or obscenity shall be presented with due sensitivity towards the prevailing moral climate.
1.7.1 A visual presentation of sexual conduct may not be published, unless a legitimate public interest dictates otherwise.
1.7.2 Child pornography shall not be published.
1.8 The identity of rape victims and victims of sexual violence shall not be published without the consent of the victim.
1.9 News obtained by dishonest or unfair means, or the publication of which would involve a breach of confidence, should not be published unless a legitimate public interest dictates otherwise.
1.10 In both news and comment the press shall exercise exceptional care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals, bearing in mind that any right to privacy may be overridden only by a legitimate public interest.
2. Discrimination and Hate Speech
2.1 The press should avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s race, colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or preference, physical or mental disability or illness, or age.
2.2 The press should not refer to a person’s race, colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or preference, physical or mental illness in a prejudicial or pejorative context except where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported or adds significantly to readers’ understanding of that matter.
2.3 The press has the right and indeed the duty to report and comment on all matters of legitimate public interest. This right and duty must, however, be balanced against the obligation not to publish material which amounts to hate speech.
A publication is justified in strongly advocating its own views on controversial topics provided that it treats its readers fairly by:
3.1 Making fact and opinion clearly distinguishable;
3.2 Not misrepresenting or suppressing relevant facts;
3.4 Not distorting the facts in text or headlines.
4.1 The press shall be entitled to comment upon or criticise any actions or events of public importance provided such comments or criticisms are fairly and honestly made.
4.2 Comment by the press shall be presented in such manner that it appears clearly that it is comment, and shall be made on facts truly stated or fairly indicated and referred to.
4.3 Comment by the press shall be an honest expression of opinion, without malice or dishonest motives, and shall take fair account of all available facts which are material to the matter commented upon.
5. Headlines, Posters, Pictures and Captions
5.1 Headlines and captions to pictures shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report or picture in question.
5.2 Posters shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the reports in question.
5.3 Pictures shall not misrepresent or mislead nor be manipulated to do so.
6. Confidential Sources
The press has an obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
7. Payment for Articles
No payment shall be made for feature articles to persons engaged in crime or other notorious misbehaviour, or to convicted persons or their associates, including family, friends, neighbours and colleagues, except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and the payment is necessary for this to be done.
Due care and responsibility shall be exercised by the press with regard to the presentation of brutality, violence and atrocities.