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The struggle for press self-regulation in contemporary South Africa: charting a - page 5 / 51

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its transparency and accountability, represents independent and unbiased viewpoints, and serves as a voice of media consumers, especially in countries without media consumers’ associations. In Puddephatt’s view (2008), self-regulation is most successful where it properly engages all stakeholders within the media industry - publishers and owners, editors and journalists – and also involves the broader public. However, such arrangements can begin to become not so much press self-regulation as press-stakeholder regulation. If press freedom is essential to democracy, regulation by a majority of non-media stakeholders, even if they are not governmental, could compromise this tenet.

To return to the rationales for some form of regulation, in addition to the nature of “other-regarding speech”, another argument is sometimes adduced in favour. This is the right to information. As Matsuura (2005:8) argues, freedom of the press should not be viewed solely as the freedom of journalists to report and comment. Instead, it is strongly correlated with the public’s right of access to knowledge and information. In this light, there are societal claims on media to deliver professional and ethical reporting. Again, self-regulation is seen as an institutional mechanism to help meet this functional need.

That regulation of the press should keep government role to policing law rather than ethics, is a function of assumptions about journalism’s democratic role and autonomy of the state. In this perspective, editorial independence, being the right of journalists to take editorial decisions according to conscience and professional standards, is essential. The “space” it carves out is for journalists to be allowed to work independently and free of control by political or economic interests both within and outside the media. This in turn means that systems of self-regulation cannot prevail unless there is media freedom, as correctly noted by the International Federation of Journalism (IFJ, 1999; See also Everette Denis et al 1989). In this mode, self-regulation avoids the dangers of political control, leaving media ethics largely to media professionals both as indivituals and as a community. Significantly, for the South African debate over the Media Appeals Tribunal, the IFJ position is that not only governments, but also parliaments, should refrain from regulating media content.

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