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Ensuring a free and fair media for all

Written by Dale Hes

While media freedom is a vital part of South Africa’s democracy, media outlets’ reporting needs to be fair and accurate.

This is especially relevant when reporting on sensitive issues such as gender-based violence. The media may not reveal the identity of a rape or sexual abuse victim, unless she gives permission for her name to be made public.

The Press Council was set up to ensure that the print and online media do not infringe on people’s rights. It is also tasked with settling disputes related to the content of work published by the media.

“It is the responsibility of the media to be the ears and eyes of the public,” said public advocate at the Press Council Joe Latakgomo.The Press Council ensures that the print and online media do not infringe on people’s rights. If a member of the public believes that the media has not lived up to the council’s Code of Ethics and Conduct, they can lodge a complaint.

 However, he stresses that the media needs to be held accountable to society. “The public has to have a recourse in the event of disputes over content. Therefore, the Press Council’s role is to ensure that the media is accountable, credible and enables citizens to make informed judgments on matters of state and society,” Latakgomo explained.

More than 1 200 publications in South Africa subscribe to the Press Council. If members of the public believe that one of these publications has not lived up to the council’s code of ethics and conduct, they can lodge a complaint with the council’s public advocate within 20 days of the article being published.

“The public advocate’s role is to assess the merit of a complaint, help to formulate it and forward it to the publication for response,” Latakgomo explained.

If the matter isn’t resolved, it is referred to the Press Ombud for a ruling to be made.

“Cases may be evaluated according to how news was gathered, privacy, dignity and reputation, protection of personal information and the use of anonymous sources,” Latakgomo said.

 “The Ombud may direct the publication to publish an apology, dictating the placing, wording and headline under which the apology is published.”

*If you believe a media article has infringed on your rights, contact the Press Council. Call them on 011 484 3612 or fill out the complaints form on the website www.presscouncil.org.za.