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South Africa’s ANC Orders Media Regulation, Ownership Probe

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress instructed Parliament to investigate alternatives for regulating the country’s print media, saying the existing self-regulatory system is ineffective.

Members attending the ANC’s five-day National General Council also mandated lawmakers to look at ways of increasing black ownership in media companies, similar to laws that oblige mining companies to sell 26 percent of their shares to blacks, Pallo Jordan, the chairman of the party’s communications committee, told reporters at the conference in Durban today.

“It’s about the balancing of rights,” Joe Drummond, a member of the communications committee, told reporters. “It recognizes the media’s right, it recognizes what the media is doing. It is saying there are also other rights which have to be balanced in respect to this.”

Complaints against newspapers are currently investigated by a press ombudsman, who the ANC has accused of being biased toward the media that fund his post, allowing the media to violate South Africans’ dignity and privacy. The party previously suggested a media appeals tribunal be set up to oversee the press and be answerable to Parliament, where it holds 264 of the 400 seats. Parliament wouldn’t be involved in appointing or overseeing regulators, Jordan said.

“It should be Parliament that investigates firstly the desirability and the feasibility of such a media appeals tribunal,” Jordan said. “As far as the ANC is concerned, should Parliament decide there should be one, it should be free of party political and commercial interference.”

Parliament is separately processing legislation that proposes giving government officials power to classify documents and jailing anyone possessing them without authorization for as long as 25 years. Newspaper editors and civil-rights groups have said the Protection of Information Bill and the proposed new regulatory body may violate constitutional rights to free speech and hobble investigative reporting.

South Africa’s newspaper industry is dominated by four companies: Naspers Ltd. in Cape Town, Independent News and Media Plc, based in Dublin, Ireland, and Johannesburg-based Caxton and CTP Publishers and Printers Ltd. and Avusa Ltd.

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