Press code should be reviewed – DA

Johannesburg – The DA believes the Press Code should be reviewed to protect journalistic independence, it said on Wednesday following the Press Ombudsman’s dismissal of a complaint by the party.

Democratic Alliance spokesperson Phumzile van Damme said in a statement that the party noted the Ombudsman’s ruling that the office could not judge two journalists for wearing ANC attire as their behaviour was not followed by publication.

Van Damme said: “This is an opportunity for the South African Press Council to assess whether the Press Code’s ambit is currently broad enough to ensure the spirit of independence and standards captured in its preamble is practised in the journalism industry.”

She had lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman against Independent Newspapers group executive editor Karima Brown and opinion and analysis group editor Vukani Mde.

 They were pictured on social networks attending the ANC’s 103rd birthday in January wearing the party’s attire.

“If a journalist’s behaviour leads to the publication of whatever, the conduct in question… may come under scrutiny. Otherwise, this office has no jurisdiction over it,” said Ombudsman Johan Retief.

Van Damme had argued that because the two had worn African National Congress attire to the birthday celebration in Cape Town, their independence and impartiality had been compromised.

Abigail Oliver, on behalf of Independent Newspapers, argued that Brown and Mde attended the birthday celebration in their personal capacity and neither reported on the event.

After the ruling, Van Damme said that the journalists’ behaviour needed to be understood in context.

“Their attendance of the ANC birthday celebrations must also be seen against the backdrop of the Independent Group’s axing of independently minded journalists and the unnecessary apology recently issued to the President.”

Independent Newspapers recently apologised to President Jacob Zuma over a Max du Preez column. Du Preez has since ended his association with Independent, writing in his letter of resignation that “an apology in this matter would have been a travesty”.