by Isabelle Abraham
As more phone-hacking incidents come to light, the UK media is bearing the brunt of the mounting number of lawsuits. News24 reported that as of 20 April, the cases brought against News of the World has now amounted to a staggering 100. Another UK organisation, British broadcaster Sky News, has admitted to hacking emails, but justifies this decision as ‘public interest’. Sky News is a part of BSkyB – of which 39% is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
With a myriad experiences out there, what can South Africa learn in regard to reform (or replacing) the press self-regulatory system?
In order to avoid ad hoc or opportunistic borrowing, I devised a system. It's a tripartite test that focuses on (a) Matching our situ to a source context and purpose, (b) Abstracting a general model, and (c) Destination fitness analysis. (or M.A.D if you want an easy acronym).
It was a useful exercise that informed my submission to the Press Council's self review.
The SA Press Council has called for submissions as part of its review. So I started writing... and writing. Almost 4000 words and nine pages later, there are more than a couple of ideas about how press self-regulation can be strengthened. In a nutshell:
1. Change the name of the whole institution to "Press Accountability South Africa" (PASA).
2. Create separate bodies for adjudication and appeals.
3. Provide a Public Advocate to assist complainants, and an Advocacy Officer to drive public awareness.
South Africans have two self-righteous bodies with major divergences in their mutual perceptions. Put in simplified form, you can say:
• SA’s journalists see themselves as watchdogs on power on behalf of the public.
• The ANC and government see the press as a bunch of hyenas.
• Politicians have a proclivity to be demons, according the watchdogs.
• Our leaders are angels, according the ANC.