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The struggle for press self-regulation in contemporary South Africa: charting a - page 7 / 51

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council can keep government control out of media. But that is, ultimately, a valuable by-product of doing the right thing in terms of upholding quality standards and requiring editors to publish apologies and corrections when found wrong. Acting as a sop to a predatory government should never constitute the motive force or raison d’etre of self-regulation.” Self-regulation for political reasons risks becoming a synonym for self-censorship.

What is also important to record is that self-regulation is also not a system in the interests of the media as such. This is because, as Nelson Mandela (1996) has articulated, “Freedom of expression is not a monopoly of the press; it is a right of us all”. The point of self-regulation therefore is to promote journalistic standards in the interests of “all”. In turn, that means that a system which is independent of not only government, but also the media itself. A press council has to be above the “us” and “them” when it comes to complaints by a given party against a given medium. Accordingly, a press council is not a token or charade that beneath the rhetoric actually serves to protect the journalists from complaints.  “Its credibility rests wholly in it being an authentic independent process of redress to citizens when, as too easily happens, media ethics go awry and people’s rights are enfringed” (Berger, 2009).

If this is a primary purpose of self-regulation, it is not contradictory for the IFJ (1999) to argue that journalists and their organisations should promote public confidence in the media by establishing systems of self-regulation. Breit (2005)takes this issue further by criticising how journalistic self-regulation in Australia has tended to treat the public as passive recipients of information, rather than integral parties to the process. She observes that this situation relies heavily on complaint-driven processes, rather than moving into the realm of media literacy and engagement with audiences on the recognition that the “consumption of news is not a passive activity”. This evokes not just an autonomous role for a press council, but a highly pro-active one. One debate here has been the issue of whether a council should behave like a “media observatory” which combines research, advocacy and pro-activity roles along with the conventional and narrower role of receiving and adjudicating complaints. There has been some debate in South Africa

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