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South African Communist Party Backs Media Tribunal

Aug. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The South African Communist Party said it supported a proposal by the ruling African National Congress to create a media tribunal to investigate complaints against journalists.

“Self-regulation on its own simply isn’t working,” the party’s deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin, said in the SACP’s online magazine yesterday.

The ANC is proposing an independent media tribunal, which will be accountable to Parliament, to rule on complaints. The South African National Editors Forum says this is the latest measure aimed at clamping down on press freedom. The government is also trying to pass the Protection of Information Bill, which will make it more difficult for journalists to access state documents.

“We do need a reliable and independent institutional mechanism to which members of the public, including, but not only, high-profile personalities, can take concerns around grievous misrepresentation and unethical reporting,” said Cronin, who is also deputy transport minister.

Police yesterday arrested Mzilikazi wa Afrika, a journalist for the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times, on suspicion of fraud and defeating the ends of justice. He co-wrote a story published on Aug. 1 about the police renting new headquarters for 500 million rand ($68.6 million) without following “the usual tender proceedings,” editor Ray Hartley said. The arrest was not related to the story, the police said.

Complaints against the media are currently handled by a press ombudsman, who is funded by media organizations.

Apologies published by newspapers after errors are “just not good enough” and “sorry doesn’t undo the damage,” Cronin said.

There are concerns among the ANC, SACP and labor union allies that the media “have adopted a narrowly anti-ANC oppositionist stance,” Cronin said. Newspaper ownership in the country is also a “problem” as it’s dominated by Naspers Ltd. and Independent News & Media Plc, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nasreen Seria in Johannesburg at nseria@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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