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There was confusion over the ANC's proposed Media Appeals Tribunal at the weekend, with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe apparently being contradicted by party spokesperson Jackson Mthembu on the issue.
A delegation led by Deputy President Kgalema Mothlanthe met with the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) for a two-day meeting in the North West last week that focused on the ANC's proposal for a media appeals tribunal.
BuaNews in Pretoria reported that government and Sanef "smoked a peace pipe" and agreed to "put measures in place to address the challenges that have led to frosty relations between authorities and the press."
But the comments of Mothlanthe, reported by Sapa and the Sunday Times after the meeting, seemed more flexible and tolerant of the media than previous ANC statements, and have caused confusion over the ANC's stance on media regulation, writes Legalbrief.
The latest Legalbrief media summary reports:
According to a Beeld report, Mthembu insisted the ANC would not deviate from its resolution that Parliament must investigate the possibility of a statutory tribunal for the print media. This appeared to contradict Motlanthe, who said earlier the ANC would abandon its tribunal plans if the SA Press Council's ongoing review proves to be acceptable. Motlanthe made the comments after a meeting between the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) and the government. According to Beeld, Mthembu reacted furiously to Mothlante's reported comments, saying the ANC needs to talk to Motlanthe. 'We don't know exactly what he said. It is quite possible that his words were interpreted wrongly,' Mthembu said. Motlanthe's spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, is quoted as saying: 'All the Deputy President is saying is that the Press Council should get the opportunity to finish its work. We (the ANC) must first look at the final product and then decide whether it is still necessary to continue with the (parliamentary) investigation.'
Full Beeld report
The media was being allowed space to fix itself, is how weekend reports interpreted Motlanthe's remarks. His actual words, according to a report on the iol site were: 'If the process of reviewing the self-regulatory mechanisms produces mechanisms that can address the concerns about its shortcomings, we see no difficulty in accepting that right product... we are in a sense allowing the space for the media to attend to that challenge.' He added: 'A lot depends on how the concerns would be addressed, for instance if there is an inaccurate article in a newspaper, what is the turnaround time of printing a correction? He also pointed out that the ANC resolution on the tribunal referred to an investigation into the 'desirability' of establishing a tribunal. 'Now since the media itself has set in motion processes of reviewing its own constitution, the Press Council, the press ombudsman's office, we believe it is only reasonable to allow that process... Media adverts inviting inputs are still open and the ANC is free to make its submission if it so feels.'
Full report on the IoL site
"What was important about (the meeting) was that we actually met ... Senior editors and government Ministers sat in the same room," said Sanef chairman and Avusa editor-in-chief, Mondli Makhanya. This, he said, had lessened levels of mistrust. According to the Cape Times, the Sanef delegation raised concerns about threats to media freedom and a trend towards increasing secrecy on the part of government, as well as government communicators acting as gatekeepers rather than promoting the flow of information between the government and the media. The government delegation raised concerns about unfair criticism and vilification of individual Ministers, and that it was held solely responsible for entrenching the country's democracy. Media diversity, ownership, the quality and integrity of reporting, redress for those affected by salacious or inaccurate reporting were also raised - and the need for the media to report in ways that helped SA realise the vision promised by the constitution.
Read more of Legalbrief's summary of the media news here.
The Sowetan writes that since Mothlante's remarks, the ANC has been "mum" on a reprieve for the media. The newspaper writes that it was unable to get clarity from the ANC and the ANC Youth League on whether its stance on media regulation has changed.