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Panel issues recommendations to improve media self-regulation

UPDATE: Self-regulation proposals triumph over mooted statutory control of newspapers (MISA, 2 May 2012)

(IPI/IFEX) - Johannesburg, April 26, 2012 - Nearly 200 journalists gathered here at the No. 4 Old Fort Women's Prison on a day that seemed to usher in the beginning of winter to hear the much-anticipated findings of the organization charged with designing a “gold standard” regulatory system for print media.

It was only a year-and-a-half ago that observers from around the world – including my own organization, the International Press Institute (IPI) – cried foul as the African National Congress (ANC) increased its pressure on Parliament to consider implementing a statutory Media Appeal Tribunal for print media, an idea it initially introduced in 2007.

In 2010, my colleagues and I boarded a plane for an emergency mission to Johannesburg directly from a press freedom mission to Zambia. In Johannesburg, IPI joined with its members and supporters on the ground to lobby for a reversal of the ANC's position. Our voice was one of many.

In July 2011, the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and Print Media South Africa (PMSA) responded to criticism of how the Press Council of South Africa dealt with complaints against the media and criticism from the public - particularly the ANC - regarding “shoddy” journalism, by establishing the nine-member Press Freedom Commission, whose job it was to thoroughly study the self-regulatory process in the country and come up with a plan by March 2010.

So yesterday, I also sat with anticipation in a building gracing the grounds of a prison that held the likes of journalists such as Mathatha Tsedu during the Apartheid years. “I think it is fitting that we are gathered in the Old Fort to discuss the threatening of journalism,” Tsedu, who serves as project director of the Press Freedom Commission, said yesterday. “Some of the best journalism was done here.”

Like all the other journalists in the room, I hoped that this independent body of eight non-media professionals and one foreign media representative would give my colleagues in South Africa well-thought-out and defined recommendations for an enforceable self-regulatory system that would not infringe on press freedom values.

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By Alison Bethel McKenzie, IPI Executive Director

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