Johannesburg - The ruling ANC insisted on Tuesday it did not want to curtail media freedom with a proposed Media Appeals Tribunal, but warned that print media did not seem committed to transformation.

“It’s us who can gloat and say the freedom you enjoy, is as a result of what we fought for, led by the ANC (...) We are not about to reverse our legacy in that area,” African National Congress (ANC) national spokesperson Jackson Mthembu told editors and journalists in Johannesburg.

But the media should not deny the ANC the right to “put a view to the public.

“Does that not amount to messing up with our freedom of expression as the ANC?” asked Mthembu.

“There’s a lot of dishonesty (...) you can’t enter an argument by saying stop an argument.”

He was briefing the media about the ANC’s discussion document to set up a Media Appeals Tribunal for the print media, saying the current self-regulatory system of the Press Ombudsman did not allow for punitive measures against newspapers.

Assisting editors

“You are defenders of your space,” Mthembu said to critical questions from members of the media.

He said the tribunal would be set up to “assist” editors and that the ANC valued media freedom.

“Which part (of the proposal) is unconstitutional? Which part wants to cap media freedom? None of our commas, none of our sentences, none of our wording has that (...) it would not be allowed in South Africa.

"We are the people who fought for the freedom you enjoy today (...) some of us died for it. We have put our view before you, and that is our right,” he added.

Mthembu said the discussion document did not only revolve around the proposed tribunal, but also looked at media ownership.

“Print media does not have, nor is in a process of developing a transformational charter, despite the regrettable degree of transformation.”

'Nothing new'

He said Media24 had a 15% historically disadvantaged individual (HDI) ownership and Avusa 25.5%.

“Caxton and Independent Newspapers has no HDI participation,” said Mthembu.

The ANC proposed the Competition Commission “investigate the anti-competitive dynamics in the print media value chain, that is paper, printing, publishing, distribution and advertising”.

He tried to explain why the ANC believed a Media Appeals Tribunal was necessary to regulate the media, saying it would be very similar to how broadcast media was regulated by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa).

“One thing the ANC is not prepared to do, is to limit the freedom that our Constitution gives to the press (...) so this is nothing new. It is something that has already been introduced in the broadcasting industry.

“We believe, indeed, (the tribunal) will assist our editors in their jobs.”

Mthembu said members of the public who were victims of defamation in the media did not have any legal recourse if they chose to complain through the Press Ombudsman – and often people could not afford to take their cases to the courts.

Mthembu asked the media to come forward with alternative suggestions on how to give the Press Ombudsman more teeth.