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Ruling party revives debate on media tribunal

(MISA/IFEX) - South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) says its view on establishing a media tribunal is "shifting". The party says that the South African media is historically hostile towards it, the online news agency News24 reported on 23 March 2009. News24 quoted ANC's spokesperson, Jessie Duarte, saying the media tribunal proposal is therefore under review.

"The freedom of the press is an important platform for the ANC and even though there have been discussions in the ANC about a tribunal . . . it's not a decision," she said.

Duarte explained that a media tribunal was "a place where the media itself has to give account for some of the incorrect things that they say about individuals".

"We believe that (a media tribunal) is not correct, that this is actually not the time and place for tribunals," Duarte said at a discussion of political party media strategies in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.

The ruling party, however, viewed media coverage of the ANC as "hostile", saying this "temperament" has prevailed since the 1960s.

"Historically . . . if one looks at the structure of South African media, media is owned by groups of companies and some of the media is owned by multinationals, although there is an argument that could be raised that the wall between editorial and ownership is solid. However, right from the early '60s, the same temperament toward the ANC has pertained that exists in the media. A temperament (that is) highly critical, exceptionally hostile in terms of the calibre of leadership of the ANC," Duarte said.

The proposal for a media tribunal was solidified at the party's elective conference in Polokwane in 2007. According to Duarte, the ruling party's view was now "shifting" and the current view was that the office of the press ombudsman was weak and needed to be strengthened.

"We think the ombudsman's office is pretty weak, we think that it does need to be a little bit more professional, more solid in its approach to dealing with facts and issues," she said.

This was an "open discussion" in the ANC and Duarte stressed that there was no need to fear it, as its aim was to improve the "solidness of the freedom of the press".

"We recognise there's hostility; we are not fighting you. We are saying we want to move that (hostility) to critical but substantive criticism.

"We would like to have fair comment space and the question of opinion being substituted for hard news is a real issue with us," she said.

Democratic Alliance Chief Executive Ryan Coetzee, also participating in the debate, said his party did not view the media as a "coherent entity" with a particular agenda. He recognised that journalists and media organisations were diverse but his party also took issue with media that blurred the line between hard news and opinion.

"We don't view the media as a coherent entity that has some kind of agenda or some kind of strategy; it's a very diverse thing. For us, it's separating the hard news from the opinion . . . that is something that annoys me," said Coetzee.

The head of communication for the Congress of the People, JJ Tabane, said his fledgling party had trouble navigating the media environment the way established parties did.

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