The struggle for press self-regulation in contemporary South Africa: charting a course between an industry charade and a government doormat.
By Guy Berger, G.Berger@ru.ac.za
Paper presented to conference “Communication and Media: Past, Present and Future”, Southern African Communication Association (Sacomm), School of Communication Studies (Potchefstroom Campus) and Department of Communication (Mafikeng Campus), 16-18 September 2009
Self-regulation is widely seen as a form of constraint on media freedom compatible with democracy. In South African Press history, this has been the subject of much contestation under apartheid. While the first years after democracy were uncontentious, concerns were raised by proposals by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) during 2007. Politically, the performance of the Press Council is an important component in the power-play around these proposals. Against this backdrop, this paper assesses how independent performance of the system in recent history saw the ANC begin to utilise its channels rather than seek to replace it. However, a narrow reactive conception of self registration leaves space for the revival of contestation at a future point.
Press self-regulation has always been contested in South Africa, and controversy erupted again when the ruling ANC in mid-2007 raised major problems with the current system. Both the Mbeki and the Zuma camps had axes to grind with the press, and each side regarded the then recently established Press Ombudsman and Press Council system as inadequate to address their concerns. The ANC called for an enquiry into setting up a “Media Appeals Tribunal” (MAT) to which the self-regulatory system would be subservient. This paper reviews the arguments on both sides, against a backdrop of the particular coverage that fuelled the ANC’s position and sheds insight on the political