A case of politics before principle?

28 September 2010

Is a move to more independent regulation of print media a good idea? If this means a new structure along the lines of that being proposed in Rapport’s Editorial then I am not so sure! Yes self regulation has its challenges but people seem to be happy, broadly speaking, with the system run by the broadcasters. That system works or is at least is seen to work, not so much, as is argued by Lumko Mtimde because of its relationship with ICASA, but because it is implemented more comprehensively overall.

The BCCSA process works for a number of reasons, not least because it is well advertised across all broadcasters. This means most people know about it if they listen to radio or watch television.  The advertising of the Press Council and Ombudsman is pathetic in comparison.  Sure it is getting better but it has only been in the last three years or so that the major papers have begun carrying the advert for it.  The complaints process for the BCCSA is simple and efficient.  Critically though, the BCCSA is also better resourced than the Press Council.  The codes of the BCCSA and Press Code are actually quite similar – aside from the programming stuff, and I think there are some gaps in both.  MMA is currently drawing up its submission to the Press Council and we will make this available.  We would also welcome your views and input on it.

Currently the Press Council is conducting a full review of the Press Council, its systems code and constitution.  In addition an eminent persons review is being set up to do a similar job, but I think is intended to be different because it carries the weight of eminent persons independence to it.  For the moment then, the position in the Rapport editorial seems premature, and on some levels to have already prejudged the two review processes to suggest an altogether new structure.

We are not playing with Lego blocks here that can simply be built up and taken apart again in a few months.  The consequences of the new/revised/strengthened structure/s for print media regulation will be with us for a long time and will impact press freedom for years to come.  It is critical that we take the time to debate the issues fully.  We should all participate in the review of the press council, including all the editors of the media.  The option presented in the Rapport editorial appears to be more out of a desire for a political solution rather than one based on clear and principled arguments for building, protecting and promoting media freedom and transformation.