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The struggle for press self-regulation in contemporary South Africa: charting a - page 2 / 51





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party’s stance. It then examines the extent to which the existing system received and evaluated complaints from ANC people subsequent to the MAT proposal. Lastly, it argues that independence of the Press Council from industry, and associated rulings against editors, seem to have undercut government criticisms and encouraged ANC critics to make use of the system rather than replace it. Without broadening the role of the council, however, the respite may prove to be temporary.

2. Self-regulation

The terrain of self regulation is generally seen to operate within broad legal parameters of media freedom.  It is accordingly often argued that in democracies there has to be a clear distinction between issues to be dealt with in legislation, such as access to information or defamation, on the one hand, and on the other hand, journalistic ethics, such as accuracy or fairness, which are not a matter of legislation. Bertrand (2004, 2006) has identified at least 80 media accountability systems, extending from self-critical evaluations to corrections boxes, letters to the editor, web feedback, accuracy and fairness questionnaires, petitions, ethics columns, critical blogs, in-house critics, ethics committees and coaches, reader clubs, internal whistleblowers, etc. A number of newspapers in South Africa have ombudsmen or “public editors” in operation (see Mail & Guardian; Rhodes University student paper, Oppipress; Sunday Times; www.newsombudsmen.org). These are all ways in which individual journalists do not operate as free-floating agents, but within a context requiring them to justify their practices.

Thus, although ethical journalism can be seen as primarily a matter of individual conscience, it is recognised that this more broadly guided by codes of principles for the conduct of journalism developed by the media professionals themselves, and in terms of which various mechanisms have evolved to underline this. It is when such mechanisms become institutionalised across a great many media houses, that self-regulatory systems as generally understood become more than mere guidelines for an individual or single media company, but ways to enforce particular standards in journalism.

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