DA asks Press Ombudsman to adjudicate journalist T-shirt row
20 January 2015
I have today written to the Press Ombudsman requesting that he consider whether two Independent Newspaper journalists breached the Press Code when they wore ANC regalia to the ANC's birthday rally on 10 January 2015.
Group Executive Editor Karima Brown and Editor of Opinion and Analysis Vukani Mde's decision to wear ANC colours at an ANC rally, and the debate that has ensued, raises interesting philosophical questions about impartiality in the media.
But it also appears to be in contravention of the Press Code, which states in its preamble:
"As journalists, we commit ourselves to the highest standards of excellence, to maintain credibility and keep the trust of our readers. This means always striving for truth, avoiding unnecessary harm, reflecting a multiplicity of voices in our coverage of events, showing a special concern for children and other vulnerable groups, and acting independently."
In other words, it is incumbent upon journalists to show, through their actions, not just their words, that they are independent. Mde and Brown appear to have breached the Code through actions that suggest they are fervent supporters of the ANC.
Furthermore, section 3.1 of the Press Code states that:
"The press shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non- professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided, as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the press's independence and professionalism."
A snapshot of opinion on social media would suggest that Mde and Brown's actions have led audiences to doubt their independence and their professionalism.
Their actions come against the backdrop of worrying developments at Independent Newspapers, including the axing of independently minded journalists and unnecessary and grovelling apologies to the President.
The DA has consulted the office of the Press Ombudsman and agreed that while complaints to this office normally relate to published content, the T-shirt case may be an important precedent-setting opportunity regarding the actions of journalists and editors.
We will therefore ask the Ombudsman to adjudicate this matter as a constructive contribution to the debate around Independent newspapers and political independence.
Freedom of the Press is a sacrosanct principle for the DA. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. The Press Code and the Press Ombudsman exist to ensure that journalists maintain the standards of independence expected of them.
Statement issued by Phumzile Van Damme, DA National Spokesperson, January 20 2015
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