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The struggle for press self-regulation in contemporary South Africa: charting a - page 10 / 51





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has been much contestation around self-regulation. The apartheid government in 1950 appointed the first of several commissions of inquiry into the press, with the prospect emerging of statutory regulation over-and-above hugely constraining legislation. In response, Argus Group Chairman, DH Ollemans, proposed a voluntary press council – the first move towards self-regulation of the press. Accordingly, mainstream South African newspapers prior to democracy subscribed to a non-statutory body called the Media Council (in 2002 called the Press Council), set up and funded by the Newspaper Press Union (NPU).  But much criticism has been expressed that the body (and its progenitor) ended up complicit in one way or another with much of governmental abuse of media freedom under apartheid. The Council, some felt, came close to being a tool of self-censorship. It was part of a package in which the NPU in 1969 developed a “Defence Agreement” with the South African military, later complimented by similar arrangements with the police.  Addison (cited by Patten, 1997), described this as resulting in “a bargained half-truth which editors accepted as news although they and their correspondents were privately told many more facts in special briefings in Pretoria.”

Certainly, the system had been set up response to government threats for the newspapers to get their own ‘house in order’, or face increased statutory restrictions. As has been written: “Faced with this constant rumble of intimidation against the industry as a whole, newspaper proprietors decided to take defensive action against state intervention - voluntary steps some would have called it, but steps actually taken under government duress in an attempt to diminish the likelihood of further restrictive press legislation.” (Patten, 2007). The system exempted the NPU members from the provisions of the Publications Control Act. According to Patten, the council actually received few serious complaints over the years,  and only occasionally reprimanded newspapers for breaches of ethics. While editors published the council's findings, they also often saw fit to write editorial comments attacking the same ruling. Accordingly, “(t)his led to pressure from the government to ensure it [the Council – GB] had more teeth, because the government remained dissatisfied with the tone of the press in relation to its policies.”

Patten also notes that “(t)he council itself had all the failings of the old South Africa, being in no way representative of the whole population or even of the newspaper reading public among its public representatives and being represented only by whites among its press representatives.” Indeed, the racial character of the press and its role under apartheid was the subject of the

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