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South Africa today enjoys guaranteed constitutional press freedom following an era of invasive government intervention during the apartheid years. Press criticism and calls for regulation by the ANC have been countered by the establishment of the Press Freedom Commission. In this climate of burgeoning new media and increased digital publishing, is voluntary self-regulation enough in South Africa? This article in Communicatio explores the challenges of digital regulation, drawing comparisons to the UK and Australia.
The phone hacking scandal and ensuing Leveson inquiry forced us to question press ethics and social responsibility in the UK. Hostile Australian press coverage of Gillard government policies similarly led to two major media inquiries. In both cases the offending coverage stemmed from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, which also extends to South Africa. These cases undoubtedly fuelled anti-press sentiment and calls for development of a media appeals tribunal in South Africa. The friction is great; on one hand media practitioners opposed to state regulation in a country where a free press signified the fight for democracy. On the other politicians keen to ring fence media conglomerates freedom to report via rapidly multiplying channels. Poor broadband capability in South Africa has slowed the rise of the internet in the media but now with online publishing growing and increasing media pluralism, self-regulatory measures to control content “have arguably not been keeping up”.
Lord Leveson, despite acknowledging the need for ‘governing principles’ did not sacrifice his liberal lean and would not consider statutory regulation of digitally published material. The Australian inquiries went a step further, proposing involuntary independent regulation or obligatory membership of an industry self-regulatory body for media organisations.
UK and Australian inquiries did find common ground in ideals of a unified regulatory framework for print and digital media combined; though neither have concrete solutions for application. Conversely the South African Press Freedom Commission refuses to accept convergence of print and digital media and recommends another industry body for regulation of digital media. Clearly this is a complex issue; a duty of public responsibility needs to be fulfilled but who will take it on and how remains unclear. The authors suggest there has been “a missed opportunity for finding a practical solution to the regulatory challenge of online journalism.”
Read the full article:
The Press Freedom Commission in South Africa and the regulation of journalists online: Lessons from Britain and Australia
Author: Gabriël J. Botma
Published in: Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research, Volume 40, Issue 3, 2014
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