The Press Council of SA says it will seek to expand the capacity of its office to speed up its reaction to complaints, and has expressed concern at government moves in Botswana to move away from press self-regulation,  according to a media statement. 

The full statement reads:

The Press Council of SA’s annual general meeting in Johannesburg on August 14 and 15, 2008 reviewed its work and that of the Press Ombudsman and the Press Appeal’s Panel since it was re-constituted on August 2007 and expressed satisfaction with progress and the effectiveness of the press self-regulatory systemi

It however resolved to work closely with the print media industry to bolster resources for the Ombudsman’s office to ensure speedier attention to complaints.

“We found there was a need to increase personnel in the office,” chairperson Raymond Louw said.

“In the 12 months, we have had more than 121 complaints and the complainants ranged from ordinary readers of publications to Cabinet Ministers and political parties. We are satisfied that the system is working well.”

The Council also welcomed the meeting between its chairperson and Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe with the ANC on August 19, 2008. On the agenda for that meeting are the ANC’s concerns about the self-regulatory system and its plans to create a statutory Media Appeals Tribunal.

Other resolutions:

Attacks on Media Freedom

The Press Council of SA is deeply concerned at the attacks on media freedom and the judiciary in South Africa. It has noted with alarm several new laws which will severely inhibit media freedom and restrict the public’s right to know.

Legislation such as the Films and Publications Act, the National Key Points Act, the Protection of Information Bill and provisions of the amendment to the Companies Act which will censor shareholder information, all seriously inhibit the media in its duty of informing the public.

These laws are contrary to the Constitutional aim of conducting governance in SA in a transparent and open manner and require severe amendment.

The generalised attacks on the judiciary are also a cause of concern because they undermine the strength of a constitutional democracy. The judiciary is an essential requirement for upholding SA’s constitutional freedoms in particular freedom of expression and freedom of the media.  By undermining the judiciary with unsubstantiated accusations of improper conduct the protection afforded by the courts are weakened.

The Press Council, whose Press Ombudsman and Press Appeals Panel processes conducted in accordance with democratic principles, fear that its role will be undermined should the attacks on the judiciary weaken that institution.

Press self-regulation in Botswana

The Press Council of South Africa is alarmed at the intention of the Botswana government to impose a statutory press council to adjudicate on complaints against the media in that country.

The Press Council of SA’s concern is that this will usurp the role of the voluntary press council which the media there set up as a self-regulatory mechanism in accordance with the practice in 60 democratic countries and which deals with ethical and professional misdemeanour.

PCSA fears that this new body will criminalise reports and speech in the manner of “insult laws” and criminal defamation which have been condemned by journalists in democratic countries.

PCSA has noted that Botswana has enjoyed high regard among press freedom organisations for its standards of media freedom. This legislation will destroy this reputation and reduce Botswana to the ignoble status of a media “unfree” state similar to Zimbabwe, which President Ian Khama has quite rightly opposed for its authoritarian policies.

For enquiries:
Raymond Louw – 082 446 5155