Pressing ahead with Press Council
Full text of a speech I gave at the inaugural meeting of the Press Council, Johannesburg, 2 November 2007.
This body really has to succeed - if it can't win respect from editors and government, as being above the fray, then we're in big trouble. Everybody. Government, media, public. The scenario then will be external regulation, rather than self-regulation.
This is not to say that the findings of the Press Ombudsman can't be debated and criticised, but that the integrity of the process, and its verdict, have to be accepted and implemented with utmost seriousness.
I do expect that in cases like the Sunday Times coverage of Manto Tshabalala Msimang, any finding (if the issue comes to contention at the Press Council) will be exploited so as to suit the contestants' prior agendas and interests. That's ok - it happened already in the Jajbhay ruling on the Manto records. It's just like we can always expect people to use statistics for their own purposes.
BUT be this as it may, the key thing is that the participants need to respect the INSTITUTION as such. Because if self-regulation is discredited, the alternative is not a free-for-all. Nor is it the courts coming into play. It is all manner of other pressures on the press - economic censorship by advertising boycott being one, the "tribunal" proposed by the ANC as another.
I elaborated on these warnings in my Converse column