THE Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Thursday it would continue to oppose any proposals for the establishment of a media appeals tribunal when the matter comes up for discussion in Parliament later this year.
Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications is this year likely to debate the matter and listen to submissions from stakeholders in the media industry.
In 2007, the African National Congress (ANC) electoral conference in Polokwane had resolved to investigate the desirability of a media appeals tribunal that could "strengthen, complement and support" current self-regulatory institutions in the public interest. This proposal was seen by analysts as an attempt by the ANC to stifle independent media, which had embarrassed the party by exposing corruption.
The ANC resolved that consideration should be given to the idea of the tribunal being statutory and accountable to Parliament.
"I do not think the government should be monitoring the media at all ... we are against any heavy-handed approach or management of the media by any party," DA MP and communications spokeswoman Marian Shinn said on Thursday.
At its policy conference in June, the ANC said it was largely satisfied with suggestions made by the Press Freedom Commission to improve accountability in the print media.
The commission recommended greater public participation in a system of independent co-regulation between the public and press, without government involvement.
This followed a series of hearings led by former chief justice Pius Langa.
The commission further proposed the introduction of a hierarchy of fines, depending on the infraction and the publication’s response to a complaint. Repeated noncompliance with the rulings of the adjudicatory system could lead to suspension or even expulsion from South Africa’s Press Council.
The ANC resolved that the recommendations from the commission should be included in the parliamentary inquiry.
Earlier this week, Joe Thloloe, the press ombudsman, said it was unlikely that the ANC’s proposed media appeals tribunal would go ahead.
"I think the (ANC) realises an attempt to have a media appeals tribunal will turn into a battle in the Constitutional Court," he said.
However, Parliament’s inquiry into the matter will continue because the ANC has to carry out its resolutions.
Sikhumbuzo Kholwane, the chairman of Parliament’s communications portfolio committee, said on Thursday that the committee would discuss the matter and that it was not a "foregone conclusion".
Mr Kholwane added that it was of concern that the Press Council was not implementing some of the recommendations made by the Press Freedom Commission.
"You cannot pick and choose. They are not implementing some of the recommendations in toto, which makes it even more urgent for us to discuss the matter as a portfolio committee," he said.
Prof Jane Duncan, Highway Africa chair of media and information society at Rhodes University, said on Thursday the proposals made by the Press Freedom Commission had addressed all of the ANC’s concerns.
"I cannot see a substantial argument being made for the establishment of a media appeals tribunal given the proposals made by the Press Freedom Commission ... I think the ANC is now just going through the motions with submissions still to be made to Parliament," she said.