Saturday, August 28, 2010

ANC view of media 'bizarrely' at odds with reality

ANC view of media 'bizarrely' at odds with reality
Aug 29, 2010 12:00 AM By ROWAN PHILP


Official complaints by ANC and government officials against newspaper stories have quadrupled over the past three years.


However, despite allegations of widespread newspaper falsehoods and "an astonishing degree of dishonesty", the total number of complaints to the ombudsman by these institutions was still only 24 in the past year, out of tens of thousands of stories published.

This week, media experts said the few cases of deliberately biased or false stories in South Africa's "improving" press made it "bizarre" that the opposite perception within the ANC was driving proposals for a tribunal to fine, investigate and even imprison journalists.

This week, it emerged that:

•Only four stories about the ANC or ANC Youth League were found to be unfair or inaccurate in the past three years, from eight complaints lodged, according to the ombudsman.
•Government and local government officials lodged 33 complaints with the Press Council in the past three years, with nine being found to be unfair, and another seven cases pending;
•Separate research by Media Monitoring Africa showed that 84% of 60000 media reports on the 2009 elections were fair to all political parties "and clear of overt bias", and concluded that "the South African media landscape demonstrated good levels of fairness and balance in its coverage".
However, what the ANC calls a concern that newspapers are beset with consistent anti-ANC bias, deliberate falsehoods and malicious reporting remains a stated reason for a policy debate over a media appeals tribunal at the ANC National General Council next month.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said there was far more irresponsible reporting than the statistics suggested, and that the figures "do not assist in the argument for a media appeals tribunal".

He said there were many instances of "unfair reporting on the ANC and the ANCYL and other progressive forces and society at-large that have not gone to the Press Council".

He said the proposals for a tribunal were "not in any way" a response to unfair stories about the ANC, but were to protect society "against unfair, malicious and irresponsible reporting by the print media".

Constitutional lawyer Pierre de Vos said "you cannot have a tribunal accountable to parliament if you want a free press", and media academic Professor Guy Berger said the proposal should be actively resisted because it "would give the ruling party the final say over what the press can publish".

Professor Anton Harber, head of media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Wits, said many serious errors did not reach the stage of a ruling by the ombudsman, with editors voluntarily offering retractions when the mistake was realised.

Flawed reports that angered ANC

The Ombudsman ruled that:

•In a story in The Times on July 7 this year, "Kaunda wins battle in the Presidency", said by Lakela Kaunda, deputy-director general in President Jacob Zuma's office, to have portrayed her "as a person who makes life unbearable for colleagues and who manoeuvres to have them lose their jobs if they disagree with her", the paper neglected to ask her for comment, represented opinion as fact, and readers could not be satisfied with the independence of its unnamed sources.
•In a story in the Sunday Tribune in February, "Premier's family lands juicy contracts", which alleged wrongdoing by the KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize, the paper failed to corroborate allegations, or include responses of parties.
•In a story in the Mail & Guardian in January, "Youth League targets Mantashe", that stated that the ANC Youth League had devised a plan to weaken the influence of ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, the newspaper ought to be reprimanded for failing to approach the league for comment.
•A key part of the report "Phosa tries to Muzzle City Press" in that newspaper in August last year about ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa was unfair. The newspaper gave Phosa insufficient time to respond, and its "random" use of unnamed sources was misleading.

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